June 21, 2020
A Buyer’s Guide to ETFE
Ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) is a fluorine-based plastic. Similar to PTFE, this lightweight material has gained popularity in recent years within the construction industry. Previously unused in full-scale building applications, ETFE is now taken seriously by contractors and architects alike as a plastic polymer which can replace more costly transparent materials.
We’ll be exploring some of the other reasons ETFE has increased in demand and popularity throughout this article.
Firstly, it’s eco-friendly.
Whilst ETFE is not biodegradable, it is 100% recyclable. The properties of the material; encompassing its ability to remain unaffected by UV light, atmospheric pollution and adverse weathering, result in a long-life expectancy – the oldest ETFE project is 38 this year, but EFTE is anticipated to withstand up to 100 years. Consequently, the need for ETFE to be recycled is minimised.
The manufacturing process itself is also environmentally friendly. Any excess material can be recycled and used on the next ETFE project. No solvents are used in the water-based procedure of ETFE production. ETFE is an extremely lightweight material; due to this, the supporting structure can also be more lightweight. Less materials used in a final project results in less materials being fabricated and transported; thus, a reduced carbon footprint. Edward Peck, architect and lead designer in Chicago, comments that “sustainability (of ETFE) was a major element to push. This product gives you a lot of opportunities as far as daylighting, reduction of steel for support structures, savings on transport. If you reduce the tonnage of steel and reduce raw buildings materials, we have a real capacity to lighten up a building.” (ref 1) The anti-adhesive, smooth material also minimises the need for cleaning. Water is often able to clean away any dirt, but if not then a mild PH-neutral detergent can be used. The properties of ETFE mean that it is naturally resistant to solvents and chemicals.
ETFE can absorb large amounts of transmitted infra-red light which can make it a great choice in improving the energy consumption of a building. Whilst we concede that the pillows have to be inflated all of the time, it is worth noting that a 10000m2 ETFE pillow structure takes the same amount of energy to keep inflated as a domestic lightbulb! Energy costs are reduced by up to 30% when using ETFE compared to glass.
Originally, ETFE was commonly used in the horticulture industry as plant life and vegetation thrive under it. The high translucency and permeability of the material, which allows in up to 95% light and can allow more natural light than glass, lets in those all-important UV A rays which are essential to plant health as it helps them photosynthesise. The UV spectrum also “kills off mildew, fungi and bacteria; enabling plants to grow faster and healthier.” (ref 2) Whilst vegetation and plant life reap the benefits of ETFE being transparent to UV A rays, UV B transmission is reduced through ETFE – the UV ray responsible for the deterioration of material and damage to human skin – making it the perfect solution for plants and people alike.
EFTE has proven itself in all climate conditions; resistant to temperatures from as low as -200 degrees Celsius to highs of +100 degree Celsius. ETFE’s extreme durability boasts the ability to withstand high winds and snow loads. The elasticity of ETFE means that it performs well in hurricane or earthquake scenarios.
A huge selling point of ETFE as a building material is its low flammability and self-extinguishing ability in the event of a fire. The EFTE foil shrinks back from the plume which effectively vents the fire. Due to the chemical properties of the substance, drops of molten material do not fall to the ground in the event of a fire.
ETFE is printable which is great when working with it as a building material. Varying frit patterns allow for both solar control and privacy. Colour or logos can be printed on the plastic for a unique finish. ETFE pillows have been used on some of the worlds most inspired architectural designs. LED lights can be installed between layers of ETFE before it is inflated into a cushion. As seen on several public structures, such as stadiums and shopping malls, ETFE can be illuminated at night for dramatic aesthetic effect.
Minimal maintenance is required on ETFE, making it a popular choice to work with. Excessive pecking from birds can cause damage by way of punctures in ETFE pillows. Novum Facilities Management team can offer bird deterrent solutions to minimise this issue.
Overall, ETFE has had a positive impact on sustainability within the construction industry. It outperforms any other transparent material for insulation, eco-friendliness and cost. Novum has worked on several EFTE projects across the globe to great effect. Please click here to view some of our amazing ETFE projects.