As the world races to combat climate change, we must recognize the little-known but major role fluoropolymer chemistries have in our transition to clean energy. These uses of fluoropolymers become doubly important considering movements in the United States and abroad to enact unscientific and overly broad restrictions on any fluorine-containing substance, regardless of their use or potential for any harm to people or the environment.
The fact is that fluoropolymers are critical to accomplishing the United States’ clean energy goals, which include carbon-free electricity by 2030 and zero-emission vehicle acquisition by 2035. Despite their central role in achieving a more sustainable energy future, misguided policies directed at the entire PFAS class of chemistries have the potential to remove fluoropolymers from the clean energy toolbox.
Concerns over potential health effects of some types of PFAS has led to policies that could subject fluoropolymers to unwarranted restrictions on their production and use. Before doing so, policy makers need to understand that PFAS are a large family of chemistries that should not be overly generalized or inappropriately bundled into a one-size-fits-all restriction.
Fluoropolymers belong to the diverse group of PFAS chemistries and are used in many of the technologies that will help take us to a clean energy future, such as solar panels, wind turbines, green hydrogen, and batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage. Their unique combination of properties protects both internal and external components against temperature extremes, corrosion, fire, moisture, and physical damage, while simultaneously providing highly desirable electrical properties.
Here are just a few examples of how fluoropolymers are a key component of U.S. environmental sustainability:
- Fluoropolymers are used in films for photovoltaic solar cells to help protect against extreme heat and moisture, while also providing high-performance electrical insulation properties for the wiring inside the panels. Without fluoropolymers, solar cell technology would be less efficient and cost-effective, hindering the ever-increasing adoption of generating electricity with solar energy.
- Fluoropolymers are also found in paints for wind-power turbines, helping to protect the tower and blades from harsh environmental conditions like salt spray and temperature extremes that would otherwise reduce the service life of wind energy infrastructure over time.
- In addition to their role in helping to protect alternative energy infrastructure, fluoropolymers are needed to unlock emerging sources of renewable energy, including green hydrogen. Fluoropolymer membranes are the key technology for harvesting hydrogen from water while generating no carbon dioxide emissions. It could be very difficult for the Department of Energy to meet the ambitious goals of its National Clean Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap without fluoropolymers.
- Fluoropolymers are crucial for more climate friendly transportation by enabling the high-capacity lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles. Fuel cell technology, another path for zero-emission vehicles, also relies on fluoropolymers to help withstand the challenging conditions inside the cells. And speaking of batteries, fluoropolymers are crucial for the flow batteries that are increasingly used by grid operators to manage electricity supply and demand more smoothly.
- The fluoropolymer and green energy industries must educate policymakers on the need for fluoropolymers to help advance the vision of a clean energy future. Misguided policies could further complicate serious supply chain issues, by helping to hamstring our climate and energy goals by possibly making the transition more expensive or simply impossible.
Poorly conceived regulations could also push the production of alternative energy technologies offshore, especially to China, which is in neither our energy nor national security interests. Without fluoropolymers, it will be virtually impossible to develop and deploy the reliable, safe, and cost-effective technology innovations needed to realize a more sustainable energy future.
The fluoropolymer industry does not oppose science-based regulation of PFAS, and we continue to advocate for focusing on those substances that present concerns. Policymakers must properly define the specific categories of PFAS that have the greatest potential to cause risk and focus on those. Otherwise, the critical role of fluoropolymers in our environmental sustainability efforts will surely be compromised.