The fluorination of plastic containers, using fluorine gas, greatly improves barrier performance of plastic containers, preventing permeation of vapour and odour, to protect food products and beverages in packaging and even for the packaging and transport of gasses and fuels; now Pelchem is building from that platform and entering new markets
THERE is renewed focus at Pelchem, the only fluoro-chemical producer in South Africa, which recently completed an internal restructuring process that’s resulting in improved efficiencies at its seven production plants as well as better services to customers both locally and around the world.
At least part of the new momentum at the Pelchem, which is a state-owned, was the appointment of Motheo Moatshe as Executive Sales and Marketing. Originally with SasolPolymers, Motheo later spent five years with global player SABIC in Saudi Arabia, where he gained valuable international experience. Now he’s busy implementing some of the lessons learned and taking the systems at Pelindaba-based Pelchem to the next level. (The company was originally known as Fluoro Pack, and the rebranding exercise appears to be creating positive energy for the business.)
Pelchem’s main business is the fluorination of plastic mouldings (such as tanks, pipes and even films), but some of the new developments are in relatively new market sectors.
“Pelchem has developed new a new anti-ageing active ingredient perfluorodecalin. This active ingredient is a fluorocarbon and derivative of decalin, which is used in cosmetics formulations to dissolve and deliver oxygen to the skin. There are only four producers of perfluorodecalin worldwide.
“Addtionally, we have developed molybdenumhexafluoride, which is used in medical applications to identify cancer cells,” said Moatshe, who is strengthening the long-term relationships with customers and industry, implementing a strategy to sustainably grow the business in these now mature and competitive markets,” said Moatshe.
Main benefits of fluorination
The main benefits of fluorination after treatment of the plastic container is that it is less receptive to permeation thus minimises loss of packed liquid.
“This reduces odour emission, for example, retention of fragrances or even fuel vapours. What is also especially important is that the process reduces ‘paneling,’ where fluorination maintains the shape of the bottles or containers, even after long periods of storage,” said Motheo, adding that fluorination enables plastic containers to serve as safe, cost effective replacements for glass and metal containers.
The process has been used mainly for polyolefin products, but can also be applied to PVC, nylon and elastomers such EPDM. Various other mouldings – such as caps, lids and bags – can also be fluoro treated.
Pelchem also manufacture a wide range of fluorochemicals, mainly hydrogen fluoride, which is a key input in petrochemicals. Other specialised products used in cosmetics such as perfluorodecaline, or molybdenumhexafluoride in medical applications, Xenon difluoride in electronics, and other specialties such as perfluorinated organic solution, perfluoro heptane , pefluoroalkane , sodium bifluoride , calcium sulphate and sodium silica hexafluoride.
“South Africa has the largest reserves of fluorspar (calcium fluoride), the raw material from whence our products are produced. We plan to take advantage of this, in line with government’s Fluorochemical Expansion Initiative. Although still in its early development stages, our plans are to scale up to multiples of current production capacity while also adding new product lines higher up in the value chain, with an eye for the export market,” he said.
“I am passionate about creating a culture where colleagues and teams are empowered and motivated. I spend a lot of time engaging customers, suppliers and other industry players stakeholders to analyse trends and opportunities,” added Moatshe.