Shampoo, conditioner, the Burj Khalifa and car headlights – what do these have in common, you may wonder? Silicones! During our Company Visit to Dow Corning’s Seneffe site on April 27, 2017, Annick Meerschman, Managing Director, and researchers from Dow Corning showcased the wide variety of applications of silicones in everyday products.
What are silicones?
Silicones are a family of polymers that share some very useful traits, such as stability at high temperatures and resistance to age, sunlight, moisture, extreme temperatures and chemicals. The basic raw material to produce silicone is sand, the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. Silicones can take on many different forms: from rigid plastics to flexible rubbers, from greases to powders, and from fluids thinner than water to thick gels.
Dow Corning in Belgium
Dow Corning was founded in 1943 as a 50:50 joint venture between Dow Chemical and Corning Glass to explore the potential of silicones. The company operated independently until May 2016, when Dow acquired Corning’s stake in the business. The Seneffe site in Belgium was established in 1970, and until recently, Seneffe was the headquarters for Dow Corning in Europe. Seneffe hosts three main manufacturing lines (sealants, compounds and emulsions) as well as their European R&D center where new materials for the personal care, textiles and construction industries are developed.
Silicones and their many applications
After the presentation by Annick Meerschman, we toured the R&D center where various researchers showcased the many different applications of silicones.
Beauty & Healthcare
In beauty products, silicones are used in shampoos and conditioners for softer and shinier hair. In healthcare, silicones can be used to help with drug delivery – for example, as a lubricant in needles and syringes to make needle insertion less painful or as an adhesive to help deliver drugs through the skin.
Silicones in sealant form are used to hold up the glass walls in skyscrapers, such as the Burj Khalifa’s in Dubai. The glass façade of that building is made possible by silicones manufactured in Seneffe. The sealant glues the glass to the aluminum structure of the building. Some of the unique properties of silicones (flexibility, strong adhesion, resistance to extreme temperatures and weather) are essential when gluing glass to metal at a height of 800 meters.
Another innovation the Seneffe site has been working on is part of a groundbreaking new headlamp design which can automatically adjust light beams. One of the key components of this new design is made of moldable optical silicones which help adjust the lights to avoid blinding the drivers in oncoming cars.
There are many more fascinating applications of silicones, from antifoams in washing powder to protection for microchips – discover them here.
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