PTFE vs. Teflon: What’s the difference?

When it comes to surface protective materials, there are a lot of choices out there. But if you’re looking for the absolute best, it’s hard to beat PTFE or Teflon.

There’s a lot of confusion out there about PTFE and Teflon. Are they the same thing? What’s the difference? In this blog post, we’ll explore the two terms and dispel any myths about their differences.

PTFE vs. Teflon: It’s all about the name

Polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE, is a synthetic fluoropolymer of tetrafluoroethylene. It’s best known by the brand/trade/market name Teflon.

These two terms are often used interchangeably, but there is no difference between them. Basically, PTFE is the chemical term for this type of fluoropolymer, while Teflon is the specific brand name.

You can synthesize and use PTFE freely. However, since Teflon is patented, you must acquire a license to use it.

The easiest way around this is to purchase a semi-finished product that contains PTFE. These products are available from a variety of suppliers and can be used to produce a variety of final products.

But, no matter what name you call it, PTFE or Teflon is a highly versatile material with a variety of crucial applications.

PTFE Chemical Structure

PTFE is a repeating unit of C2F4. The C2F4 units are connected by carbon-carbon bonds. Each C2F4 unit has two carbon atoms and four fluorine atoms.

The structure of Teflon is similar to that of polyethylene, only that fluorine atoms in Teflon replace the hydrogen atoms in polyethylene.

The chemical formula of PTFE is (C2F4)n, where n is the degree of polymerization.

The fluorine-carbon bond is one of the strongest covalent bonds, second only to the carbon-carbon bond. This type of bond is created when the fluorine atom shares electrons with the carbon atom. The result is a very strong bond that is difficult to break.

Is PTFE Plastic?

PTFE is a fluoropolymer, and therefore it is categorized as a plastic. Fluoropolymer plastics are known for their unique properties, such as being non-stick, corrosion-resistant, and having a very low coefficient of friction.

Considering that PTFE is also a synthetic fluoropolymer of tetrafluoroethylene, it’s true to say that PTFE is an ethylene polymer plastic.

A Brief History of PTFE

PTFE was first developed in the 1930s by a chemist named Roy J. Plunkett. Plunkett was working for DuPont, a company that manufactured Freon, a refrigerant gas.

One day, while he was experimenting with Freon, Plunkett made a curious discovery: the gas had polymerized to form a white, waxy substance.

This substance was later given the name polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE. PTFE was registered and patented in 1945 by the same company with the brand name Teflon.

The success of any company is contingent on many things, but making a great brand name is key to making it a household product. That’s exactly what DuPont achieved by patenting PTFE under the name Teflon.

The patented product was introduced to the public in 1960 as a non-stick PTFE coating for cookware such as frying pans.

An egg in Teflon pan

Today, the Teflon™ name is synonymous with high performance, durability, and safety. But it didn’t become that way overnight. A lot of time and energy has been spent building the Teflon™ name over the last 75 years.

Other than Teflon, PTFE is also available commercially with other brand names such as 3M Dyneon, POLYFLON, Fluon, and Flontech.

Manufacture, Cost, and Availability of PTFE

PTFE is made by polymerizing tetrafluoroethylene (TFE) molecules. TFE is a colorless, odorless gas produced by the fluorination of methane.

The TFE molecules are bonded together to form long chains, and these chains are then cross-linked to create a 3-dimensional structure. This structure gives PTFE its unique properties, such as its resistance to chemicals and high temperatures.

PTFE is sold in the form of granules, powder, sheets, rods, and tubes. It is produced by a number of manufacturers, including DuPont, 3M, and AGC. The cost of PTFE varies depending on its form and the quantity you need.

However, as a general guide, PTFE costs $7.35 per kg. So if you need 10 kg of PTFE, it will cost you $73.50. PTFE is a relatively affordable material for its superb characteristics.

Since its discovery, PTFE has become one of the most widely used polymers in the world. Thanks to its many desirable properties, Teflon is readily available and is likely to continue to be essential material for many years to come.

PTFE Material Properties and Applications

PTFE is a unique polymer with many features that make it ideal for a variety of applications.

So what is PTFE used for?

  • PTFE has a very low coefficient of friction (its Dynamic Coefficient of Friction is 0.04), making it ideal for applications where parts are required to move smoothly against each other, such as in gears and plain bearings.
  • Teflon has a very low coefficient of thermal expansion (112–125×10−6 K−1), meaning it can be used in applications where thermal expansion needs to be minimized.
  • PTFE is chemically resistant and has a very high melting point of 620.6°F (327 degrees Celsius), making it ideal for use in high-temperature applications.
  • Teflon is used in medical implants and body piercings because of its biocompatibility.
  • PTFE is also non-stick, making it a popular choice for cookware and other applications where sticking is undesirable.
  • Considering its highly non-reactive nature and high-temperature rating, Teflon is used as a liner in containers, expansion joints, and pipelines.
  • Due to its superb dielectric properties (Dielectric strength (kV/mm) of 19.7 and Dielectric Constant of 2.0) and high melting point, PTFE is used in wiring and computer electronics applications.
  • Teflon has a wide temperature range, making it suitable for a variety of applications. It can withstand temperatures as low as -328 degrees Fahrenheit and as high as 500 degrees Fahrenheit, or -200 degrees Celsius and 260 degrees Celsius.
  • PTFE has high flexural strength, even at low temperatures. This makes it ideal for applications that need to withstand high stress or vibration, such as automotive and aerospace engineering.
  • Teflon is a polymer made up of chains of carbon atoms. It is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water. This property makes PTFE suitable for applications where water resistance is desired, such as in non-stick coatings and plumbing.

In short, PTFE is one of those materials you probably encounter daily without even knowing it. This versatile material is used in everything from cookware to aerospace applications.

Applications of PTFE in Solar Panels

PTFE has a wide range of applications in solar panels. It is used as a protective coating, release material, and solar panel efficiency enhancer.

Most of the characteristics of PTFE used in solar panels have been lacking for a long time, meaning that PTFE is currently being used in the development of next-generation solar panels.

Improves power conversion efficiency

By creating an electric field effect on solar panels, PTFE enhances the migration of photo-generated carriers, improving the solar module’s short circuit current and overall efficiency.

When PTFE is used in solar panels, it can reduce the amount of energy lost due to friction. Additionally, PTFE is also resistant to high temperatures and chemicals, making it an ideal material for improving the overall efficiency of solar panels.

Bifacial solar panel backsheet

Polyvinyl fluoride, PVF, also known as Tedlar, a derivative of Teflon, is used in solar panels as it’s transparent.

PVF film is an ideal backsheet material for bifacial modules due to its clear transparency, high moisture barrier properties, and excellent durability.

DuPont Tedlar PVF film is the industry standard for bifacial backsheets and has been used in many bifacial installations worldwide.

Solar panel release sheets

Solar panel release sheets are commonly made from PTFE glass cloth. During the lamination process, a release sheet is used to protect the backside of the solar cell.

The release sheet is a thin sheet of material that is placed between the solar cell and the metal layer. This sheet helps prevent the metal from sticking to the back of the solar cell.

PTFE has a number of properties that make it ideal for this application, including its heat resistance, chemical resistance, and non-stick properties.

Solar panel protective sheet

PTFE is an ideal material for solar panels, as it can withstand the harsh outdoor conditions.

Below are some of the exceptional mechanical properties that make PTFE suitable for use as a protective covering on solar panels:

  • Tensile Modulus (MPa) 550
  • Elongation at Break (%) 300-550
  • Young’s Modulus (GPa) 0.5

PTFE solar panels have been shown to exhibit strong environmental stability, with little or no degradation over time. PTFE solar panels are also less likely to suffer from delamination, another common issue with solar panels.

In summary, PTFE-coated solar panels are more durable and efficient than traditional solar panels. They are also less likely to break or crack in extreme weather conditions.

PTFE-coated solar panels are an exciting new development in the solar industry and hold great promise for the future of renewable energy.

Disadvantages of PTFE

PTFE is a versatile and durable material with many uses, but it also has some disadvantages that should be considered before using it in specific applications.

Susceptible to creep

PTFE is known for its excellent stability. However, PTFE is still susceptible to creep when exposed to constant stress or high loads. This can lead to deterioration of the material and eventual failure.

High-temperature decomposition

Although PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene) is known for its stability and resistance to high temperatures, it is essential to note that at temperatures above 200°C, pyrolysis of PTFE is detectable.

This means that decomposition of the PTFE molecules into smaller molecules can occur, which can lead to potential problems.

One of the main issues with PTFE decomposition is that it can release harmful fluoro carbon gases into the environment. These chemicals can be detrimental to both human health and the environment.

Additionally, decomposition of PTFE can also weaken the material, making it less durable and more susceptible to damage.

Pollutes the environment

Despite PTFE being non-toxic, the manufacturing process produces toxic byproducts such as hydrofluoric acid and carbon dioxide. These byproducts can be harmful to both humans and the environment if not properly disposed of.

Fluorinated emulsifiers are used in the manufacturing process of PTFE. These chemicals help keep the polymer in a liquid state so that it can be easily molded and shaped into the desired product.

However, fluorinated emulsifiers are very persistent in the environment. They do not break down easily and can accumulate in the food chain. This can lead to health problems for both humans and animals.

With regards to solar modules, the unwanted effects of PTFE depend on the amount of the coating used in solar panels, how much of the material leaks during operation, and how much of the compound leaks when solar panels are discarded.

Health risks

We are exposed to fluoropolymers every day. They’re in the water we drink, the food we eat, and the air we breathe. Nearly all Americans (97%) have PFAs in their blood, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

And while we don’t yet know how fluorocarbons can affect our health, we do know that they can cause serious health problems.

According to a report by DuPont submitted to the EPA, exposure to PFAs has been linked to a variety of health concerns such as reproductive problems and tumors.

Even though fluorocarbons are helpful in many products, they do not break down in the environment or in the human body. As a result, they accumulate over time within the body.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, PTFE and Teflon are the same material, a synthetic fluoropolymer. They are both the same chemical compound. The only difference is that PTFE is the chemical name, while Teflon is the trade name.

Teflon is just one of many brands of PTFE, but it is the most well-known. This fluoropolymer is characterized by exceptional characteristics such as high resistance to heat, chemicals, and corrosion.

Teflon is used in a variety of applications, from cookware to solar modules to industrial use.