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Keywords of this article:  automotive 
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Covestro is again expanding capacity of its Shanghai site.
Covestro is again expanding capacity of its Shanghai site.

Lightweight, highly transparent, unbreakable and easy to shape, polycarbonates (PC) are used in many areas of modern life. The rapid development of smartphones and LED technology has called for strong demand of optical parts and LED lighting, many of which are made of PC resins.

World’s biggest producer expanding capacity not once but twice

How fast is the polycarbonate market growing? Covestro’s investments perhaps tell the story: upon doubling the capacity of its Shanghai, China site last October to become the world’s biggest PC manufacturer, the German materials supplier announced another expansion plan in May 2017, further adding 200,000 tons on top of its 400,000 tons of capacity in Shanghai.

Through debottlenecking of its production lines, total polycarbonate capacity of its Shanghai site alone shall reach 600,000 metric tons by 2019.

There is a rapidly growing demand for polycarbonate resins and blends, in particular in China. Segments like electronics, healthcare and automotive are our key customer industries in that region. Further expanding our capacity for this high-tech plastic enables us to even better react to the changing needs of our customers and to guarantee sustainable supply,” said Michelle Jou, Global Head of Covestro’s Polycarbonates segment.

According to Grand View Research, the global polycarbonate market demand is expected to reach 7.72 million tons by 2024, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.9% from 2016 to 2024. China has emerged as the leading PC consumer in Asia Pacific and accounted for nearly 60% of the regional volume in 2015.

New engine in LED visuals

In recent years, LED has emerged as the most sought-after lighting system due to its light yield, efficiency, and service life. A disadvantage is that it has – as background illumination – individual and clearly visible light spots, so-called LED hotspots.
Covestro’s Makrolon UV AdLight polycarbonate sheet is able to harmoniously combine light transmission and light diffusion.
Covestro’s Makrolon UV AdLight polycarbonate sheet is able to harmoniously combine light transmission and light diffusion. In the case of backlighting using LEDs, the light is transmitted unchanged through the translucent solid sheet to ensure a homogeneous light distribution.

Even with slim applications, such as light boxes, visible LED hotspots are a thing of the past.

Makrolon UV AdLight is easy to machine with conventional tools from wood and metal processing and can withstand continuous use of temperatures between -100°C to 120°C.

The polycarbonate material attracts attention through its bright white surface without backlighting. It also has good fire protection classification (European standard EN 13501-1, B-s2-d0) and offers strong weather resistance, making it an ideal choice for outdoor advertising, such as shop signs, logos, profile letters, pylons, displays, city light posters, light boxes or even emergency signs in public buildings.

Another hotspot in automotive headlamps

LED is also used increasingly in vehicle lighting system. French research company Yole Développement predicted that the automotive lighting market, totaled US$25.7 billion in 2016, will reach US$35.9 billion in 2022 with a CAGR of 5.7%, thanks to wider adoption of LED technology.

Standardization of LED modules and their optimization are key factors behind decreasing costs. This has resulted in more vehicles equipped with LED technology. Specifically for such application, SABIC introduced the LEXAN HF4010SR polycarbonate.

Current high-end LED headlamps weigh close to 6kg with up to 200 components, due to the additional functionality they incorporate. With the new resin, SABIC is targeting forward-thinking, complex headlight bezels with enhanced styling, but at a lighter weight and at a lower overall system cost.

When designing injection molded parts, a low draft angle is important because it enables greater styling freedom as well as a larger optical surface. However, the lower this angle, the more problems arise with parts sticking in the mold, creating scuff marks and potentially even resulting in a part with cosmetic defects.
SABIC introduces new LEXAN resins for LED automotive lighting.
SABIC’s LEXAN HF4010SR resin allows target draft angles between 0.5 and 1.0 degrees lower than the recommended draft angle for polycarbonate tools (typically between 3 and 5 degrees). As a result, bezels that are injection molded with LEXAN HF4010SR can be directly metallized (no need for priming) and gloss and reflectivity performance under high temperature environments (up to 130°C) are both very good.

The material also has a unique wide processing window and high flow, providing higher design freedom to produce shapes with greater complexity, and integrate more features and functionality into each individual component.

In addition, the production of headlamps with fewer bezels can be possible, which could then potentially lead to important weight and cost reductions.

LED is a cold light sources yet generates considerable amounts of heat. SABIC has added three new grades to its existing LEXAN XHT resin line –LEXAN XHT1171, XHT2171 and XHT3171, offering high heat resistance for LED lightings.

With heat deflection temperatures (HDTs) of up to 183°C (under a load of 0.45 MPa), they provide particularly high flow in comparison to regular PC and can be considered as a drop-in alternative.

A recent molding study carried out by SABIC indicated that a bezel molded in LEXAN XHT2171, for example, could weigh 37% less than a bezel in a rival polybutylene terephthalate (PBT), thanks to possible reductions in wall thickness and the lower density.

It resin can potentially enable cost savings of up to 40% per bezel, by avoiding the use of complex tools, potentially enabling faster molding and part integration as well as reducing weight, according to SABIC.

These new offerings are examples of how we listen to our automotive lighting customers, stay in touch with their emerging needs, and propose materials they can consider to meet the challenges in front of them,” stated Scott Fallon, Global Leader of SABIC’s Automotive business.

Novel grade for compact lens in cameras
Teijin said its new PC utperforms competing resins currently used in camera lenses in terms of refractive index and heat resistance.
To reduce weight, lenses on smartphone, vehicle and security cameras are increasingly shifting from glass to polymers. These lenses require materials with a high refractive index and high heat resistance to balance the demand for smaller, lighter instruments with the need for strong performance and durability.

Teijin Limited has developed a new polycarbonate that outperforms competing resins currently used in camera lenses in terms of refractive index and heat resistance, achieving a refractive index of nd=1.65 and heat resistance of up to approximately 150°C.

Teijin is targeting sales of JPY 10 billion by 2020 for this new PC resin.

Certified compounds for safe use in electrical devices

For other electrical and telecommunication devices, US’ Polymer Technology & Services, LLC (PTS) has expanded its TRISTAR family of polycarbonate-based materials with four halogen-compliant types certified 746R and 746H by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

The four new halogen compliant compounds are TRISTAR PC-HC (which has a UL94 flammability rating of V-2), TRISTAR PC-FR-HC (V-0 and V-1, depending on thickness), TRISTAR PC-FRN-HC (5VA and V-0), and TRISTAR PC-10GF-HC (5VA and V-0).

A UL 746R certification indicates that a plastic material conforms to the EU’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) legislation, which limits the amount of six substances (lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) that plastics can contain.

UL 746H certifies that a material conforms to non-chlorine and non-bromine requirements in IEC 61249, and subject to continual monitoring by UL in its follow up testing program.

Polycarbonate grades with UL94 V-2 ratings are used in many products that are not powered by electricity, but which need the strength of PC; examples are hand tools, cases, lenses, personal protective gear and sports equipment.

Attended electrical devices such as electrical hand tools, appliances and business machines require V-0 PC grades. Unattended electrical devices, such as electrical or telecommunications enclosures, mounted outside or inside of buildings, require that the more stringent 5VA listed grades be used.

Companies in the electrical and electronics industries, especially in consumer electronics, are increasingly calling for plastics that comply with UL 746R and 746H, and we are very happy to be in a position to meet their demands. Our materials not only have excellent performance in their first life, but also offer increased flexibility for reuse and recycling,” said Phil Berg, Vice President of Technology, PTS.

A new process to produce monomer for polycarbonate 

Flowchart of non-phosgene PC process with the DRC process for DPC.
As part of a project of Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), Asahi Kasei Corp. verified a newly developed process for diphenyl carbonate (DPC), a monomer used to produce polycarbonate (PC) via Dialkyl carbonate (DRC).

Interfacial polymerization, which uses highly toxic phosgene, is the conventional process to produce PC. In addition to safety issues, it also consumes large amount of energy.

As part of a NEDO project, in 2015 Asahi Kasei began construction of a validation plant at its Mizushima Works to verify its newly developed process to produce DPC via DRC (the DRC process for DPC) to overcome these issues.

Stability and operability as an industrial process was also confirmed through over 1,000 hours of continuous operation. Asahi Kasei has successfully established the non-phosgene process using CO2 as a safe feedstock, enabling not only reduced energy consumption but also reduced CO2 emission.

The company will continue to optimize economy and energy efficiency of the new process.

Specifically, it aims to achieve commercialization of the new highly energy-efficient process using CO2 with reduced energy consumption through improved yield, and to establish technology for stable production by optimizing operating conditions and equipment.

The DRC process for DPC utilizes technology uses catalysts to obtain DRC from CO2 and alcohol, and then obtain DPC from DRC and phenol.

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