Published November 2014
Thermoplastic copolyester elastomers (TPC) are a class of thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) that combine many of the properties of both thermoplastics and rubbers. TPCs are high-performance engineering materials with thermoplastic behavior and structural strength, but also exhibit elasticity and resistance to impact and flex fatigue. At low strains, they have a low hysteresis and behave like a perfect spring with ideal elasticity. In addition, these materials possess excellent resistance to oils and chemicals and have high service temperatures. TPCs have replaced and will continue to replace other materials, such as metal and general rubbers, and nonreinforced composites of rubber with metal, glass, and fabrics.
TPCs are used predominantly in automotive parts/components (an estimated 45% of total world consumption in 2014), hose and tubing (17%), medical fields (13%), wire and cable (8%), and miscellaneous uses (17%).
The following pie chart shows world consumption of thermoplastic copolyester elastomers:
In 2014, the largest consuming nations/regions were the United States, Europe and China, together representing more than 80% of total world consumption. China continues as the largest TPC importing nation. China has capacity to produce TPC, but operating rates remain at low levels because of the high technical requirements and rather complicated production processes. Exports have been dominated by the Benelux countries and the Republic of Korea.
In recent years, China has emerged as a major TPC consumer owing to the growth of its domestic automotive industry. From 2007 to 2014, TPC consumption in China grew at an average annual rate of 12.5% and consumption is expected to continue to show strong growth of 4–5% per year through 2019. The United States and Europe are relatively mature markets for TPCs and are expected to grow at about 3% per year over the forecast period. Conversely, Japanese consumption is expected to decline over the forecast period because of a decelerated automotive production outlook. World consumption of TPC is expected to grow at roughly 3% per year during 2014–2019.
In the thermoplastic elastomer markets, as in other plastics/elastomer markets, products partially based on renewable (bio-based/agricultural) feedstocks have been introduced into the market (engineered to reduce the use of fossil fuels). One of the global leaders in biotechnology and/or products from renewable feedstocks is DuPont. The company uses 1,3-propanediol (corn-based; Cerenol™) for its Hytrel® RS TPC soft blocks, including 20–60% renewably sourced material from nonfood biomass, and 1,4-butanediol from bio-derived succinic acid in the polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) hard segments. In 2010, DSM presented its Arnitel® Eco with 20–50% content derived from renewable resources.
One of the current drivers for continued growth in the TPC market is current market pull as a result of anti-PVC pressures (especially in medical uses), overall weight reduction (particularly in the automotive industry), luxury status (use in higher-end markets over lower-cost TPEs or other resins), and sustainability. The strongest demand driver continues to be automobile production.