Dr Fritz Klatte, one of the pioneers of plastics chemistry, was Born on 28. March 1880. The patents he obtained in 1912 and 1913 formed the basis for the first thermoplastic polymers, particularly polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Klatte did not live to experience their global success – his death at the age of 53 meant that others enjoyed the benefits of his research and that his reputation faded at times.
Practically all of us carry it around with us in the form of a bank card and when our bladder is full, we sit on it. What we are talking about here is (C2H3Cl)n, which is known better as polyvinyl chloride or its abbreviation PVC. Although it was historically the first and thus oldest thermoplastic, PVC has remained young – it is still in demand thanks to its robustness and versatility. In 2016, more than 42 million tonnes of PVC were consumed around the world; this represented over 16 per cent of the total demand for plastics. The market research institute Ceresana from Konstanz in Germany expects average growth of 2.3 per cent per year in the global PVC requirement up to 2024. The Asian-Pacific region is by far the most important sales market. The biggest customers are the construction industry and manufacturers of packaging materials; it is difficult to imagine automotive manufacturing and medical technology without PVC too.
Large-scale production and marketing in Germany began in 1935. This was when IG Farben, a syndicate consisting of all the major chemical plants in the German Empire, processed the thermoplastic into such products as pipes, hoses and boards for the first time. The syndicate already produced not only unplasticised PVC but also – by adding plasticisers – the flexible version for films, coatings etc. or as a leather substitute (trade name “Igelit”), with which – for example – bus seats were covered. The industry had to settle for minor success initially even so: PVC output at the most important production location in Bitterfeld amounted to 120 tonnes per month in 1938. Even though polyvinyl chloride was an excellent fit as far as the policy of self-sufficiency adopted by the national socialist government was concerned, because it could be produced from domestic raw materials based on salt and brown coal reserves. As a result, the Nazis declared without further ado that PVC was the “German” plastic. Nazi propaganda conveniently ignored the fact that it had been manufactured in the USA since as long ago as 1928.