We all love our cookware that has Teflon coatings. Its official name is polytetrafluoroethylene and is most often abbreviated PTFE. These coatings are used all over the world. Plastic material PTFE spray coatings are made from three materials; fluorspar, hydrofluoric acid, and chloroform. They are taken, mixed together and heated. The resulting chemical reaction creates the PTFE spray coatings that we all know and love. In 2015 ,The United States used at least 15.5% of all PTFE spray coatings produced on the planet. This is expected to grow by about 2% each year through 2020. Products that use PTFE coatings are some of the most sought after on the planet.
In 1938, Roy Plunkett was a young scientists, employed by the DuPont company. He was a chemist who had received his doctorate degree at Ohio State University in 1936. The 27 year old had a focus in refrigerants. At the time, many of the materials that were used as refrigerants had a problem. They were extremely volatile and prone to explosions.
Freon was invented in the 1890s and companies began to look at it in the 1920s and 1930s as a replacement for the other refrigerants to eliminate some of the explosions. General Motors (GM) had teamed up with DuPont to work on developing safer refrigerants and had developed a version of freon that seemed to fit the bill. This was called Refrigerant 114. Because this was developed as part of the GM/DuPont partnership, they could not market it to anyone else. Plunkett wanted to develop a new form of Refrigerant 114 to remedy that. Refrigerant 114 also went by the chemical name of tetrafluorodichloroethan. He wanted to take hydrochloric acid and react it with tetrafluoroethylene (TFE). Not much was known about TFE, which is normally found in the gas form, so He decided to make a large batch of it, he set out to make 100 pounds of it to make sure that he would have enough for all of the experiments he though he would need to run.
Plunket stored all of his TFE in metal spray cans and put them on dry ice to cool them to the liquid state. They had valve releases that made then act a lot like today’s hair spray cans. He planned to release the TFE has into a chamber that had been heated but when he tried, he found that while it had been cooled, the TFE had polymerized and was no longer a gas. It was now a flaky, white powder. He and his assistant were stunned.
When a substance experiences polymerization, the molecules that make up the chemical substance are combined and the resulting material exists in long strings. Nylon, another DuPont invention, is one of the most famous polymers. In 1938, the process of polymerization was not well understood and was being studied. Plunkett had thought his TFE was resistant to polymerization so he sent his flakes off to the Central Research Department at DuPont for further analysis.
Plunketts’s new compound, olytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE was a strange one indeed. It was one of the most inert substances the scientists had worked with. It refused to react to other chemicals. It was able to resist electrical currents. Its consistency was very slick and smooth. The young chemist worked out how the polymerization was achieved and applied for a patent.
The value of PTFE was not cleat at first. Plunkett did not see it nor did the other DuPont scientists with whom he worked. When World War II began and the Manhattan Project was started, DuPont developed the PTFE coating process and used the substance to coat gaskets and liners to store caustic chemicals more safely.
In 1944, DuPont registered PTFE under the trademark name, Teflon. They worked on cheaper ways to manufacture it. In 1950, they built their first plant devoted to making industrial Teflon coatings. Then PTFE spray coatings were used mostly on machine parts. In the 1960s, they started using PTFE spray coatings on cookware.
Dr. Roy Plunkett had no idea what he was creating when he created this new and important product.