“LSR is the material of choice to prevent losses and provide higher harvests,” Wolf said. “LSR and other rubbers still are used in dripper irrigation systems, which contain an elastomeric membrane.”
These trends are interconnected. He said growing population leads to more energy and water consumption, which in turn leads to more people demanding vehicles, increased vehicle production and greater need for energy efficient products.
“Most if not all megatrends are linked to each other,” Wolf said in an interview following his presentation. “This again causes a demand for LSR. In general the demand is increasing for all markets because of this megatrend driven needs for solutions. The major leading market I would say is medical, where LSR has a really unique position of process, performance and regulatory compliance versus ordinary elastomers.”
With new types of fuels being developed for vehicles, he said these new chemicals also demand new types of materials that have different resistance properties. He identified fluorosilicones as an ideal class of material to help with emission reduction because of their resistance to aggressive fluids in harsh environments.
Electrification also is an opportunity for silicone. Electrical vehicle systems are projected to grow 16 percent annually, Wolf said. Hybrids are projected to occupy 33 percent of car production by 2025. He said the total length of cables in cars had increased 20-fold, and there were about 47 times more connectors in vehicles through 2011, estimating that both likely only increased further over the last five years.
“Not all of these need silicone rubber, but the demand is increasing here because of the demand in temperature and making high quality parts,” Wolf said. “If we go to electrical vehicles, we need to change the infrastructure to be capable of being run on direct current instead of alternative current. There is definitely also opportunity in the more mature countries like the U.S. and Europe.”
LED technology is another opportunity for silicone. The technology uses less energy and provides higher life output. Wolf said LSR helps enable this kind of innovation because its properties provide flexible design possibilities and are easy to process compared to other optically clear thermoplastics.
Wolf said LSR is a key component in insulation applications for high voltage because it lasts longer, performs better than other counterpart materials, reduces power outage, and reduces maintenance and service costs.
“This development is only a few years old,” he said. “But now we see new projects starting in automotive and industrial lighting. Some of them already have been taken up by special design companies for consumers, but this is still more fashion than for real mass usage.”
Medical has high growth potential for silicone. Wolf said a number of new medical devices are emerging because of LSR's biocompatibility. It is light on the skin, easily removable and lends itself to regulatory standards because of its high purity.
The wearable device industry is one emerging market that LSR is advancing, ranging from patches to monitor vitals and possibly evolving to other types of patches used for drug delivery.
“All of this control equipment can now be realized because of these measurement and electronic systems,” Wolf said. “You need a material that provides a good coating, good processability and can come in contact with the skin. Liquid silicone rubbers are absolutely fully approved for skin contact in this kind of way, and we have options to embed electronic equipment into the material in some way.”