What is PTFE?

PTFE stands for PolyTetraFluoroEthylene, which is the chemical term for the polymer (CF2)n. DuPont, along with its spin-off Chemours, trademarked the material as “Teflon®”

Accidental Discovery

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) was discovered in 1938 by Dr. Roy Plunkett who was researching refrigerants at DuPont’s Jackson Laboratory in New Jersey. In a fortunate accident, Plunkett discovered that a sample cylinder of tetrafluoroethylene (TFE) would not release any gas even though it weighed the same as other containers full of TFE. After cutting the cylinder open, Plunkett found that the bottle contain a white powder that exhibited an odd slippery texture. Further testing showed that, contrary to his expectations, the TFE had polymerized to produce a new solid material that was heat resistant, chemically inert, and practically friction-less.

Kinetic Chemicals, a joint venture between DuPont and General Motors, patented the new fluorinated plastic in 1941 and trademarked the new material as “Teflon®” in 1945.

One of the first uses for PTFE was as a coating on the pipes and valves used to transport highly reactive uranium hexafluoride at the Manhattan Project’s massive uranium enrichment plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

PTFE Today

Modern applications for PTFE are almost limitless. Its electrical insulative properties make it an ideal choice as a cover for wiring and circuit boards in computer, aerospace, and communications assemblies. PTFE’s low friction is perfect for industrial and mechanical components like bearings, gears, and slide plates.

Because of its extreme thermal resistance and chemical non-reactivity, PTFE is often used in valves, joints, hoses and other assemblies involved in transporting and storing chemicals, alkalis, and acids.