One hundred years ago, in 1913, the first patent for the polymerization of vinyl chloride (PVC) was awarded. According to CEO of the Southern African Vinyls Association (SAVA), Delanie Bezuidenhout, PVC is one of the oldest synthetic materials with the longest history in industrial production.
Although the material was accidentally discovered by researchers on two earlier occasions (1838 and again 1872), it was the German inventor Friedrich Heinrich August Klatte who took out a patent in 1913. The material was initially difficult to work with and no one mastered the challenge of commercial applications.
A few years later all of this changed after an industrial scientist, Waldo Semon, developed a synthetic replacement for increasingly costly natural rubber, using PVC. Semon continued to experiment with polyvinyl chloride and came up with the idea of using the material as a water resistant coating for fabrics.
Sales took off quickly with a rapidly expanding product range. Demand accelerated again during WW2, when PVC was used to replace traditional material to insulate wiring on military ships. During the 1950s more companies started to produce PVC, and volumes increased dramatically around the world. Developers quickly found further, innovative uses through the decades that followed, and they refined methods to enhance PVC’s durability.
Bezuidenhout continues: ‘Since its first application, PVC has continued to have a dramatic and lasting impact on modern life as we know it today. It is therefore little wonder that PVC is the third largest-selling commodity plastic in the world after polyethylene and polypropylene. Its cost, excellent durability, resistance to light and corrosion and processability, has made PVC the material of choice for dozens of industries such as building and construction, healthcare, IT, transport, and textiles.’
The material continues to grow to meet new demands. ‘When it was first developed, issues like recyclability and the responsible use of additives, were not important,’ Bezuidenhout says. ‘During recent years, however, vinyl has successfully reinvented itself in order to address the historical environmental concerns of PVC and improve its environmental performance.’
Local manufacturers of vinyl products belonging to SAVA are committed to the responsible and sustainable use of additives, the implementation of a sustainable recycling programme, and the promotion of a healthy vinyls industry through the association’s Product Stewardship Programme (PSP).
Bezuidenhout adds: ‘SAVA is looking forward to what the next 100 years will hold for PVC. We are proud of the long and illustrious history of this product, and the many applications that continue to be developed using vinyl on a daily basis.’