by Sara McCaslin, PhD Sara McCaslin, PhD No Comments

Polymer Seals for Nuclear Applications

In general, thermoplastics are known for being corrosion resistant, robust, and usually easy to fabricate. However, the operating environment makes it challenging to find good polymer seals for nuclear applications. In this blog post, the focus will be on thermoplastic polymer sealing solutions as an alternative to elastomeric seals.

Nuclear Sealing Solutions

There are many different applications where seals are necessary for the nuclear industry, including transport flasks and port seals, waste containment packages, ventilation systems, repair systems, valve seats, robotics, manipulators, and hydraulic rams. Reliable seals are especially crucial to reactor coolant pumps (RCP) and self-actuated abeyance systems.

Harsh Environments for Nuclear Seals

One of the most challenging environments for nuclear sealing applications is a combination of halogenated material issues and high gamma radiation exposure levels.

Halogenated Material Complications

In many nuclear plant applications, the use of halogenated materials (particularly those containing fluorine or chlorine) is strictly prohibited because these materials can potentially leach aggressive chemicals such as halides. Halides in aqueous streams, for example, can cause such problems as stress corrosion cracking in stainless steel. This means that while a seal made from a halogenated material may perform well, it can cause severe damage downstream. In addition, halogenated materials may also release corrosive gasses resulting in serious safety issues.

Gamma Radiation

Gamma radiation can cause polymers to degrade and lose critical properties rapidly. This degradation typically takes the form of chain scission and cross-linking, which leads to brittleness and fractures. This has proven to be a severe problem for commonly used seal polymers such as PTFE, PFA, PA, and UHMW PE. And even though seals may not be directly exposed to gamma radiation, this type of radiation can penetrate materials and lead to indirect exposure.

In addition, free radicals can also be trapped within the polymeric structure when exposed to radiation, leading to continued degradation after exposure in a phenomenon known as post-irradiation degradation. High gamma radiation dose rates can also generate heat to complicate matters further.

Other Issues

Nuclear applications can also involve very high temperatures and pressures and wide pressure variation. Exposure to corrosive chemicals can also be problematic. And for a sealing solution to be effective, there are vital considerations such as qualified life and ability to withstand station black-out (SBO) conditions. Therefore, the importance of reliable seals cannot be overestimated.

Polymer Seal Materials for Nuclear Environments

For harsh nuclear environments, three particular polymers can be used as a seal jacket (depending on the application and relevant operating conditions). These are PEEK, FEP, and ETFE.

PEEK (Polyetheretherketone)

Polyetheretherketone is often known by brand names such as Fluorolon by Advanced EMC Technologies,  PEEK by Victrex, Ketron by Mitsubishi, and TECAPEEK by Ensinger. Of thermoplastic polymers suitable for nuclear applications, PEEK is the most commonly used material for rotary shaft seals. Among the key properties of PEEK are:

  • Excellent performance at high temperatures up to 500°F
  • Excellent chemical compatibility
  • Self-lubricating
  • Very low friction
  • Excellent resistance to high-energy radiation on the order of 109 rads

PEEK is, however, sensitive to certain acids, carbon sulfides, fluorine, and chlorine.

FEP (Fluorinated Ethylene Propylene)

Fluorinated Ethylene Propylene is often recognized by brand names such as Teflon FEP by Dupont, Neoflon FEP by Daikin, and Dyneon FEP from Dyneon/3M. Critical properties of FEP include:

  • Excellent performance at high temperatures up to 400°F
  • Very low friction
  • Excellent chemical compatibility
  • Self-lubricating
  • Good resistance to high-energy radiation on the order of 105 rads

In addition, FEP is melt-processable and therefore reasonably easy to use in the manufacture of seals. However, FEP’s limitations for nuclear applications are primarily its susceptibility to attack by acids.

ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene)

Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene, or ETFE, is often referred to by trade names such as Tefzel by DuPont, Neoflon ETFE by Daikin, and Texlon by Vector Foiltec. Important properties of ETFE include …

  • High melting temperature
  • Excellent chemical compatibility
  • Very low friction
  • Non-stick and self-lubricating
  • Self-cleaning 
  • Excellent resistance to high-energy radiation on the order of 107 rads

Its limitations in nuclear applications include the fact that it is rated to only 300°F and is susceptible to attack by esters and aromatics. In addition, it is often cost-prohibitive.

Conclusion

Seals are a critical component in the nuclear industry. While elastomeric seals may be commonly used, there are high-performance polymer alternatives such as PEEK, FEP, and ETFE that provide fundamental properties needed. In addition, such materials can provide the required performance even when subject to gamma radiation, intense heat, and extreme pressures. 

If you are investigating polymer seals for nuclear applications, contact the sealing solution experts at Advanced EMC. We understand the specific challenges of the nuclear industry and will share our comprehensive knowledge of polymers to help you find the ideal sealing solution. 

by Sara McCaslin, PhD Sara McCaslin, PhD No Comments

O-Rings for Semiconductor Manufacturing

O-rings are a circular seal that is seated within a groove and compressed between two or more parts during assembly to form a seal at the interface. While they may look simple, their importance cannot be overstated–especially when it comes to o-rings for semiconductor manufacturing applications.

Semiconductor Operating Environments

In the semiconductor manufacturing industry, it can be difficult to find an o-ring solution that can handle the harsh operating conditions that can involve factors such as aggressive media, extreme temperatures, and vacuum pressures. Chemicals such as bases, acids, solvents, amine-based strippers, and chlorinated gases may be involved depending on the application. Extended exposure to oxygen and fluorine plasmas are common

The performance requirements of o-rings for semiconductor manufacturing are challenging to meet as well, often requiring thermal, dimensional, and chemical stability at high temperatures as well as low outgassing and high purity. Requirements may also include extremely low levels of anionic and cationic impurities, low levels of TOC (Total Organic Carbon), reduced IR (Infrared Absorption), and low permeation rates.

What to Look for in an O-Ring for Semiconductor Applications

The key properties of an o-ring material for the semiconductor industry vary with the type of application involved. For example, track and lithography equipment and processes often require an o-ring that is very resistant to solvents, while CVD (Chemical Vapor Deposition) needs thermal stability and excellent performance in the presence of vacuum pressures. 

Other applications, such as CMP (Chemical Mechanical Polishing), must have o-rings made from a material that is both abrasion resistant and resistant to high pH chemical exposure. Wet etch demands an o-ring made from a high purity material that will cause no elemental contamination (i.e., low particle generation) and dry etch requires that the material be resistant to plasma. Resist stripping not only requires general chemical resistance but outstanding performance in the presence of ozone. 

O-ring materials may have to meet other requirements as well, such as resistance to poisonous doping agents and reactive fluids, low outgassing, and low trace metal content. Almost all semiconductor o-rings involve a low compression set, excellent dimensional stability, and a wide range of operating temperatures.

Is there a material that can handle the operating environments just described? Yes, there is: FFKM, which provides the resiliency and sealing force of an elastomer with the thermal stability and chemical compatibility of PTFE (trade name Teflon).

Read more

by Jackie Johnson Jackie Johnson No Comments

Spring-Energized Seals for Spaceflight

With the success of commercial spaceflight companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic, there is an increasing demand for high performance, dependable seals. Rockets are one of the areas where harsh environment seals are needed, but also pose extremely challenging issues for success. Spring energized seals are one solution, but why?

What Makes a Modern Rocket

Successful spaceflight involves rockets, and the primary sections of a modern two-stage rocket are the first stage engine bay, first stage, second stage engine bay, second stage, and, last of all, the payload. This constitutes the most common configuration for today’s NewSpace companies. 

Such a configuration features an expendable or reusable first stage that contains 4 to 9 engines (the number of engines varies based on company design) and an expendable second stage that typically contains a single vacuum-optimized engine. The goal of the first and second stages is to produce enough thrust to achieve a targeted orbital velocity–usually around 17,500 mph– for the payload that sits on top of the rocket.

Propellants and Pressurants

Most rockets use either solid or liquid propellant. In this blog post, the focus will be on bi-propellant rockets, which are most commonly being used or developed in the United States commercial market. Bi-propellant rockets, as the name implies, use a combination of propellants. Common propellant configurations include:

  • RP-1 (Highly refined kerosene)/Liquid Oxygen (LOX) (aka, Kero-Lox)
  • Liquid Methane/LOX (aka, Metha-Lox or Lox-meth)
  • Liquid Hydrogen/LOX (Hydro-Lox)

Pressurants and support fluids include:

  • GN2 (Gaseous Nitrogen)
  • Helium (He)
  • GOX (Gaseous Oxygen)
  • GCH4 (Gaseous Methane)

How Modern Rocket Propulsion Systems Work

For a pump-fed system, the propellants are fed from low pressure tanks into a turbopump assembly (TPA). This significantly raises the pressures to be injected into the main combustion chamber (MCC). In most cases, a small portion of the propellants are scavenged from the high-pressure side to feed a separate small combustion chamber known as a gas-generator or pre-burner and used to drive the turbine. These fuel or oxygen rich gases can then either be vented to the atmosphere or re-injected into the MCC.

Operating Conditions of a Rocket Propulsion System

Consideration of the operating conditions within a rocket propulsion system provides insight into the challenges faced by the seals.

  • State 1 – Tank to Turbopump Assembly (TPA) inlet: propellants (oxygen + methane) are usually around 50 -150 psi and RP1 will be between 20 F and 80 F while the cryogenics will be between -450 F to -260 F.
  • State 2 – TPA outlet: depending on the engine, pumps will raise these pressures to somewhere between 1,500 and 16,000 PSI.
  • State 3 – Pre-burner: pressure will have dropped across the lines and injector – usually 8-15%, however temperatures will be between 800 -1,500 F.
  • State 4: depending on the engine cycle, propellants may be in a liquid-liquid state, gas-liquid state, or gas-gas state at an array of temperatures and pressures before mixing in the MC; note that in most cases the fluids will be supercritical.
  • State 5: once across the injector, the remaining propellants will combust at temperatures higher than 4000 F while pressure in the MCC may be between 50-20% of State 2 depending on system losses; note that this pressure drops quickly as the gases are pushed toward the atmosphere.

Depending upon which stage is involved, seal requirements vary greatly but high pressures and extreme temperatures will always be involved. 

Rocket Engine Seals

Rocket engine seals must perform in some of the most harsh environments imaginable and may involve wide operating temperature ranges (including cryogenic), extreme pressures, wide thermal cycling, and chemical compatibility with fuels, propellants, and pressurants. Most importantly, they must be extremely reliable. As an example, consider the just a rocket turbopump.

The image shown is a Hydro-Lox turbopump with a geared coupling used in the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10 engine. Where it is labeled with a 1 indicates flange locations that likely use spring-energized face seals. Downstream of the outlets  will be the main valves, and they too will most likely have additional flange connections that will require seals. Areas labeled with 2 indicate other flange locations that depend on face seals of unknown makeup but likely involve hot gas connections.

Spring Energized Seals: A Rocket Sealing Solution

One of the most reliable, harsh environment sealing solutions is the spring energized seal. Unlike conventional seals, a spring energized seal includes an energizer that enables the seal lip to stay in contact with the mating surface through extreme variations in pressure and temperature,and  dimensional changes, as well as out of roundness, eccentricity, hardware misalignment, and some degree of wear. Vibration, cryogenic temperatures, and high temperatures are also an area where spring-energized seals offer outstanding performance.

They are highly durable in operating environments where other seals simply cannot survive. In fact, the performance of such seals has been well established in aviation and aerospace, including both NASA and commercial rockets. 

A wide variety of jacket materials are available, with some of the most widely used aerospace options being PTFE (trade name Teflon) and Hytrel. Materials such as Teflon and Hytrel can handle extreme temperatures, are chemically compatible with media involved, are heat resilient, provide low friction, have excellent wear characteristics, and are typically self lubricating. In addition, both materials are available in grades that provide key characteristics such as improved wear, lower friction, additional stiffness, better strength, etc.

And the same is true for spring energizers, which vary in both geometry and material used. For example, vacuum pressure and cryogenic applications often utilize V-springs (also known as V ribbon springs), high pressure environments may use coil springs, and vacuum pressure operating conditions with medium speeds may utilize helical springs. Various materials can be used for the spring, which will be enclosed within the seal jacket; because of this, the spring material will be protected from whatever media is being sealed.

Conclusion

If you are in need of spring energized seals for space applications, allow the seal specialists at Advanced EMC help you. We have a long history of providing our customers with the seals they need, including custom engineered and manufactured solutions that not only meet their specifications but also the rigorous standards that may be involved. Advanced EMC has the design, manufacturing, and testing capabilities you need to make your design a success. Contact us today to learn more.

by Jackie Johnson Jackie Johnson No Comments

Benefits of PTFE For Sealing Applications

PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene), also known by its trade name Teflon, is a polymer material commonly used in sealing applications that offers unparalleled stability and sealing characteristics across an extremely wide range of temperatures, from the extreme heat of a space shuttle engine to the cryogenically cold temperatures used to preserve

In this article, we will discuss how and why PTFE is one of the best materials to use for seals in a wide variety of applications.

Low Friction

PTFE has the highest melting point and lowest friction, and is the most inert of all the fluoropolymers. It has a continuous service temperature rating of 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Molding powders are excellent, fine cut granular resins, well suited for a variety of demanding chemical, mechanical, electrical and non-stick surface applications.

Such applications include:

  • Cookware
  • Outdoor Rain Gear
  • Medical Devices
  • And more!

Cryogenic Applications

Cryogenic seals are used with super-cooled media, like liquid hydrogen or compressed natural gas, at temperatures below -238°F and down to -460°F (absolute zero). Cold temperatures like this are rough on a seal because at these temperatures most materials begin to exhibit highly brittle behavior and lubricants typically cannot be used because they will freeze. PTFE seals, however, can handle temperatures all the way down to -450°F and are capable of dry running because of their extremely low friction. PTFE cryogenic seals are used in industries like oil & gas, pharmaceuticals, and aerospace.

High Temperature Applications

PTFE seals work well at the other end of the spectrum, too. They can continue to function in extreme temperatures up to 600°F, and continuous operating temperatures up to 600°F. Note that a filler may be required to enable the PTFE to dissipate heat more quickly. It’s not uncommon to see PTFE seals in petroleum or steam applications where temperatures greatly exceed 200°F.

PTFE is also non-flammable, making it ideal for use in applications such as jet propulsion engines. Where other materials would simply melt under the pressure of constant exposure to high temperature flames, PTFE is built to withstand even the hottest of environments.

The use of seals for high temperature applications include oil and gas industry and aerospace, to name a few.

Chemical Applications

The chemical resistance of PTFE is some of the best on the market. It is stable in most aggressive and corrosive media, including:

  • Acetone
  • Chloroform
  • Citric Acid
  • Hydrochloric Acid
  • Sulfuric Acid
  • Tallow
  • Sodium Peroxide
  • And more!

However, it should be pointed that that PTFE is not chemically resistive to liquid or dissolved alkali metals, fluorines and other extremely potent oxidizers, as well as fluorine gas and similar compounds. Outside of those, PTFE is an excellent choice for applications involving chemicals.

Oil and Gas Industry

Seals are critical for the safe and reliable operation of oil rigs across the globe. Not only do seals need to be able to withstand a wide variety of extreme temperatures, but they need to be able to handle extreme pressures as well. For well drilling, for example, seals need to handle pressures from 345 to 2070 bar (5000 to 30000 psi).

For those reasons, PTFE is an incredibly popular material to make oil and gas seals out of. Because of it’s resistance to heat, cold and high pressure, PTFE can withstand the rigors of oil and gas unlike any other material.

Spring-energized Seals

In order to retain sealing power under extreme temperatures, many engineers and designers go with spring-energized PTFE seals. The spring provides optimal sealing by forcing the lip of the seal against the mating surface and helps to account for dimensional changes as a result of temperature fluctuations.

A highly efficient seal is created as the system pressure increases enough to take over from the spring and engage the shaft or bore. The spring or energized seal assembly provides permanent resilience to the seal jacket and compensates for jacket wear, hardware misalignment and eccentricity. The jacket material is critical in design to assure proper seal performance.

Rotary Shaft Seals

Using PTFE in rotary shaft seals allows them to be able to run at higher pressures and velocities when compared to other materials. They are also able to have tighter sealing, often exceeding 35 BAR and can run at far more extreme temperatures ranging from -64 degrees Fahrenheit (-53 degrees Celsius) to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (232 degrees Celsius).

On top of that, they are:

  • Inert to most chemicals
  • Can withstand speeds up to 35 m/s
  • Compatible with most lubricants
  • Come in a wide range of sizes
  • And more!

Conclusion

PTFE is an ideal sealing material for both extremely high temperature applications and demanding cryogenic applications. It retains its key sealing properties: stiffness, strength, dimensional stability (may require spring energizer), low friction, and chemical compatibility- even in the most aggressive operating conditions.

Need PTFE sealing solutions? Advanced EMC Technologies is the leading provider of PTFE spring energized and rotary shaft seals in the US. Contact us today!

by Sara McCaslin, PhD Sara McCaslin, PhD No Comments

O-Rings in Spaceflight

Since the Challenger disaster, o-rings have come under close scrutiny in spaceflight designs and applications and they continue to play a vital role in modern spaceflight, including modern commercial spaceflight ventures such as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin.

In this week’s blog post, we will discuss o-rings in spaceflight, including problems that arise, the best materials, and more.

O-Ring Failures in Modern Spaceflight

Few would argue the importance of seals and o-rings in space shuttles and rockets. From rocket engines to the International Space Station, the ability to retain media and prevent its contamination is of vital importance. This importance was first brought to public attention through the Challenger disaster where a stiff o-ring cost multiple lives. However, o-ring issues did not end there.

In 2005, orbiter tests prior to the space shuttle Discovery’s return to flight revealed a failure that traced back to Nitrile/Buna N o-rings. Six of nine flow control valve o-rings had suffered radial cracks, with one o-ring developing problematic leak paths as a result. The cause of the o-ring issue was found to be ozone attack of Nitrile/Buna N, which is one of its susceptibilities.

Back in 2016 a Blue Origin launch was delayed by o-ring issues. Jeff Bezos reported that the rubber o-rings in the New Shephard rocket’s nitrogen gas pressurization system were leaking and had to be replaced before the launch could continue. New Shephard is the same rocket used to take Star Trek legend William Shatner on his first real space flight.

Virgin Galactic, owned by Richard Branson, discovered a very dangerous issue with the flight vehicle SpaceShipTwo when it was returned to the hangar in 2019. A critical seal running along a stabilizer on one of the wings had “come undone.” While not an o-ring, this does reinforce the importance of seals on modern spacecraft.

Operating Environment Complications for O-Rings in Spaceflight

O-rings face a very hostile environment in space, including …

  • Extreme temperatures, ranging from cryogenic to high
  • Wide temperature variation
  • Extremely high pressures and vacuum pressures
  • Vibration during launch
  • Risk of permeation depending on the media involved
  • Chemical attack from media such as fuels and lubricants
  • Potential exposure to ozone, ultraviolet, and radiation

There are other potential issues as well. For rockets in particular, one of the challenges faced when specifying o-rings involves their ability to expand fast enough to maintain a seal even when joints (a common area of use for o-rings) move away from each other. Swelling when exposed to hydrocarbon-based greases used to protect components against corrosion can be problematic as well. 

O-Ring Materials in Spaceflight

O-rings are manufactured from a diverse group of materials, including EPDM, FEPM, FFKM, FKM, Fluorosilicone, HNBR, Hytrel, NBR, Neoprene, Polyurethane, and Silicone.

Any material used in spaceflight applications, however, would need to fall within the categories of high temperature service and/or chemical service, reducing the list to materials such as …

  • FEPM (trade name Aflas)
  • FFKM (trade names Kalrez, Chemraz, Markez, and Simriz)
  • FKM (trade names Viton, Technoflon, and Fluorel)
  • Silicone. 

Keep in mind, however, that other materials may be suitable that are not included in this list and the suitability of these materials is highly dependent on the application.

FEPM O-Rings

FEPM, perhaps better known by the trade name Aflas, is a copolymer of tetrafluoroethylene and propylene and often represented as TFE/P. In addition to chemical compatibility and a degree of high temperature performance, it offers excellent ozone resistance. It is known for providing excellent performance where traditional fluoroelastomers are known to fail.

FFKM O-Rings

FFKM, often referred to by trade names such as Kalrez or Chemraz, is an excellent option for applications that involve extreme pressures, extreme temperatures, and aggressive chemicals. FFKM, which is a perfluoro elastomer material, is available in various grades that offer key properties such as low permeation, low compression set, resistance to temperature cycling, and wide ranging chemical compatibility as well as resistance to explosive decompression and plasma resistance. 

FKM O-Rings

Fluoroelastomers such as FKM, known to most people as Viton, can provide excellent resistance to fuels, lubricants, and oils. Another key characteristic of is extremely permeability when exposed to a range of substances that include oxygenated aircraft fuels. They also offer reliable performance at extremely high temperatures where non-fluorinated elastomeric materials will start to degrade.

In addition, FKM comes in various grades focusing on features such as low temperature resistance, fuel resistance without sacrificing necessary elasticity, and chemical resistance that is unaffected by extremely high temperatures. Such features combined have already made them a common choice in aerospace applications, including o-rings.

Silicone O-Rings

Silicone rubber o-rings have been used extensively by NASA and remain a popular choice for o-rings used in spaceflight applications. In fact, here’s a direct quote from NASA that dates back to 2010:

“Silicone rubber is the only class of space flight-qualified elastomeric seal material that functions across the expected temperature range.”

It is considered by many to be the best in-class elastomer choice for extremely harsh environments involving high temperatures and among its key properties is its ability to maintain critical mechanical properties in the presence of extreme heat. A potential issue related to the use of silicone for o-rings lies in its gas permeability.

Conclusion

O-rings are just as important to modern spaceflight as ever, and so is the importance of choosing the right type of o-ring. A failed o-ring, no matter how tiny it may seem, can lead to serious disaster and potential loss of life. 

If you are looking for a reliable o-ring solution for an aerospace or spaceflight application, contact the sealing group here at Advanced EMC. Our team will work with you to explore all possible solutions, including materials beyond those discussed here. Give us a call today and let our team put their expertise to work for you.

by Sara McCaslin, PhD Sara McCaslin, PhD No Comments

FEP Encapsulated O-Rings

FEP encapsulated o-rings can survive corrosive chemicals and retain their sealing power in extreme temperatures, which is the main reason more and more engineers are choosing them for harsh environment applications. But what makes these particular o-rings special and what options are available for them?

What Makes Encapsulated O-Rings Different?

Unlike traditional o-rings, encapsulated o-rings contain a solid or hollow core that is typically made from a very elastomeric material. The exterior of the encapsulated o-ring is able to protect the encased elastomer from corrosive media that would adversely affect its performance. Together, the core and encapsulating polymer are able to provide a highly reliable seal even in extremely harsh conditions that may involve aggressive chemicals, extreme temperatures, and high pressures.

Encapsulated o-rings can be used in a wide variety of applications, including flanges, swivels, joints, valve stems, pumps, and even rocket engines. They serve as an excellent replacement for solid PTFE o-rings that are just not flexible enough for sealing in the long term. 

Characteristics of FEP

One of the most popular materials for the jacket of an encapsulated o-ring is FEP (fluorinated ethylene propylene), which has several trade names including Teflon FEP, Neoflon FEP, and Dyneon FEP. It is well known for its resistance to chemical attack, low friction, and a wide operating temperature range of -420°F through 400°F.  FEP remains flexible even at cryogenic temperatures, as well. One of its key characteristics is a very low compression set, allowing it to return to its original shape after deformation. FEP is also non-flammable and easy to lubricate.

While FEP is often compared to PTFE (Teflon), there are several key differences to keep in mind. For example, it does have a low coefficient of friction but it is higher than PTFE; at the same time, it still possesses very low friction with minimal stick-slip behavior. In addition, FEP does exhibit better vapor and gas permeability, which could be key for some applications. It is also melt processable, which means it can be vacuum formed, injection molded, and extruded. And, like PTFE, it is easy to clean even viscous liquids from.

FEP is available in FDA-approved grades, is considered a high purity material, and is less expensive than PFA, another commonly used jacket material. Note that FEP is commonly used in applications such as pump housings, medical components, food processing, fluid handling, and chemical processing.

Recommended Cores for FEP

FEP encapsulated o-rings work especially well with FKM and silicone cores, but there are other options available. FKM, which is a fluro-elastomer, has rubber-elastic properties which allow it to reassume its original shape and form after deformation. This results in excellent properties related to compression set. Silicone cores are not as stiff or hard as FKM cores and exhibit very good flexibility, even in cold temperatures. When combined with a hollow core geometry, this additional flexibility means that less energy is needed to achieve a tight seal. They work best for applications that involve low compressive forces.

Cores made from stainless steel, such as SS 301 or 302, exhibit excellent performance at both cryogenic and high temperatures, ranging from -420°F to 500°F. These cores usually take the form of a spiral spring (not unlike spring-energized seals) and exhibit minimum compression set and good resilience. They are not commonly used with FEP, however. EPDM, which stands for ethylene propylene diene monomer, is a synthetic rubber that performs well in temperatures ranging from -58°F to 300°F. Again, this particular core material is not recommended for use with FEP.

Selecting an FEP Encapsulated O-Ring

First, there are limitations associated with FEP encapsulated o-rings. They should not be used with liquid alkali metals and some fluorine  compounds, and should not be exposed to abrasive media such as slurries and some powders. 

They are not suitable for applications that involve high pressures and are limited to static or slow moving applications. In addition, they are not recommended for applications where the o-ring will be highly elongated and end-users should be aware that installation forces will be higher for FEP encapsulated o-rings.

However, experts agree that chemical attack and swelling are among the most common causes of o-ring failure, and the use of FEP encapsulated o-rings can solve both of these issues. FEP with an FKM core is a standard solution with a low compression set, recommended for operating temperature ranges not exceeding -4°F to 401°F. 

Use of a solid silicone core results in better low temperature performance, with an operating temperature range of -46°F to 401°F. A hollow core, on the other hand, involves lower contact pressures and is ideal for sensitive or fragile equipment. 

Conclusion

FEP encapsulated o-rings involve several key advantages, starting with their excellent chemical resistance, which allows them to be used with corrosive chemicals. These o-rings can handle pressures up to 3,000 psi and provide both an excellent service life and reliable sealing, all at a cost effective price. Their reliability and durability also translate to less downtime and better M&O costs. If corrosive media or extreme temperatures are destroying your o-rings, it may be time to consider an FEP encapsulated solution.

Advanced-EMC will work with you to find the encapsulated o-ring solution your application needs, from FDA-approved solutions for use with food processing equipment or a reliable, cryogenically compatible solution for a rocket. Contact us today to learn more.

by Sara McCaslin, PhD Sara McCaslin, PhD 1 Comment

Rocket Engine Seals For Use With Cryogenic Hypergolic Bipropellants

The use of hypergolic bipropellants such as RP1/LOX have proven to be an efficient approach to seals for rocket engine propellant. However, they require highly reliable, leak proof seals to keep them separate before actual launch, in part because the bi-propellants will ignite when they come into contact with each other. 

Critical Factors for Rocket Engine Seals

There are four critical factors for rocket engine seals that apply regardless of the type of propellant used: safety, weight, cost, and cost per kilogram of payload. 

Regardless of whether space flight is privately or federally funded, safety remains the main priority. The seals used in rockets and rocket engines must be highly reliable with predictable behavior for every possible environment in which they will be operational, including the temperatures, pressures, and media involved. Seals in general have been problematic for rockets in the past, and accidents with hypergolic bipropellants are certainly not unheard of, with spills having occurred at Johnson Space Center, White Sands Test Facility, and Edwards Air Force Base. 

Weight has been a major concern in aeronautics and space flight for decades. The weight of the rocket is directly related to the fuel required for launch, and the combined weight and fuel reduces the payload that can be carried.Payload is a determining factor for the commercial viability of the rocket. Lightweight seal materials with high specific stiffness and/or specific strength are in high demand.

Cost is another major factor, and some approaches to sealing within rocket propulsion systems are more expensive with determining factors including the type of seal (e.g., spring energized vs traditional seals) and the material involved (PTFE, Torlon, Silicone) . For custom solutions, the size, manufacturing method, and production run are also key. 

Also, keep in mind that the commercial viability of a rocket is often determined by cost per kilogram of payload. Striking a balance between reliability, weight, and cost to achieve a lost cost per kilogram of payload is a challenging aspect of specifying rocket seals.

Hypergolic Bipropellants

Bipropellants use a mixture of two propellants, a fuel and an oxidizer, and fall into one of two categories: hypergolic and non-hypergolic. Hypergolic bipropellants will  ignite when the oxidizer and fuel come into contact with each other, while non-hypergolic propellants require a separate ignition source.

For example, the last several iterations of Blue Origin (which recently took actor William Shatner into space) rocket engines have been using the follow the following bipropellants:

  • BE – 2: Kerosene + Peroxide
  • BE – 3PM: Hydro-LOX (Liquid Hydrogen + Liquid Oxygen)
  • BE – 3U: Hydro-LOX
  • BE – 4: LNG-LOX (Liquified Natural Gas + Liquid Oxygen)
  • BE – 7: Hydro-LOX

Bipropellants that include liquified oxygen, hydrogen, or natural gas are considered cryogenic because of the extremely low temperatures required to keep these materials in liquid form.

Cryogenic Hypergolic Bipropellant Seal Challenges 

When cryogenic hypergolic bipropellants are used, the cryogenic portion must be stored at extremely low temperatures (e.g., storing LOX before it is fed into the MCC). More conventional sealing materials such as traditional elastomers and uncoated metals do not provide the necessary performance at the cryogenic temperatures involved, in part due to the brittle behavior exhibited at extremely cold temperatures.

To further complicate matters, these cryogenic bipropellants will come into contact with seals as they travel through the various stages of a rocket, including compressors, pumps, ducts, joints, manifolds, and valves. And after ignition, extremely hot temperatures are involved. 

Specifying and Designing Rocket Engine Seals

In the context of cryogenic hypergolic fuels, there are some specifications that must be carefully considered, in addition to typical seal characteristics. These include …

  • Wide Operating Temperature Range
  • Lower Temperature Limit
  • Thermal Cycling
  • Cleanliness
  • Chemical compatibility
  • Wear
  • Low Friction
  • Surface Finish of Glands and Grooves

Seals that come into contact with oxidizers need to be resistant to the aggressive effects of oxidizing liquids, including long-term exposure. In addition, for seals exposed to either extreme heat or cold, their change in dimensions must also be accounted for during the design phase.

Rocket Engine Seal Solutions

One of the most popular options for rocket engine seals are spring-energized seals, which include a spring-energizer that keeps the seal jacket in contact with the sealing surface in a wide range of environments where traditional seals would fail. 

Another potential seal option would be encapsulated o-rings, which have proven themselves in a wide variety of cryogenic applications. These o-rings have a stainless steel, FKM, or silicone energizer encased within a durable, chemically compatible material. 

As to the most commonly used materials with spring-energized seals and encapsulated o-rings, both FFKM and PTFE provide excellent mechanical and chemical characteristics that suit the harsh operating environment of rocket engine seals in general, and cryogenic hypergolic bipropellant fueled rock engines in particular. Traditional elastomers often do not have the needed performance at cryogenic temperatures, which is why polymer or perfluoroelastomer materials are often preferred. 

FFKM, trade name Kalrez or Viton, is a perfluoroelastomer that offers excellent performance in the extremely harsh environments of rocket engine seals. It is highly resistant to the effects of oxidizers and has very good chemical compatibility. Another commonly used material for hyperbolic bipropellant sealing solutions is PTFE, better known by the trade name Teflon. It provides outstanding chemical compatibility, extremely low friction, and the necessary mechanical and thermal characteristics to provide reliable sealing in extreme environments.

Conclusion

When hypergolic cryogenic bipropellants are used in rocket applications, factors such as safety, weight, cost, and cost per kilogram of payload must be balanced with the various challenges involved with designing and specifying reliable seals. Two potential solutions to the issues related to rocket seal design are spring-energized seals and encapsulated o-rings, both with jackets of FFKM or PTFE.

If you are looking for a rocket sealing solution, let the engineers and experts in the Advanced EMC seal group lend their knowledge and expertise. They will work with you from the early design phase onward to find the seal type, geometry, and materials you need for a successful design. Contact them today!

by Jackie Johnson Jackie Johnson No Comments

Fluoropolymers for Injection Molding: Challenges and Solutions

Fluoropolymers are used in many different industries and applications, ranging from medical devices to oil and gas. Engineers often assume that just because a part is to be manufactured from a fluoropolymer that it cannot be injection molded, but that is not correct. Fluoropolymers are not just limited to manufacturing processes such as machining, compression molding, or sintering. 

What Are Fluoropolymers?

A fluoropolymer, as the name implies, is a fluorocarbon-based polymer with multiple carbon–fluorine bonds. Fluoropolymers are known for certain characteristics such as …

  • Very low friction
  • Non-stick
  • Excellent performance in high temperatures
  • High purity and non-toxic
  • Aging is minimal
  • Easy to sterilize
  • Excellent resistance to acids, bases, and solvents
  • Also resistant to microbiological and enzyme attack
  • Good electrical insulating properties

Commonly Used Fluoropolymers

The most commonly used fluoropolymers include …

  • ECTFE (ethylene chlorotrifluoroethylene), trade name Halar
  • ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene), trade names FluonETFE, Neoflon, and Tefzel
  • FEP (fluorinated ethylene propylene), trade names Dyneon FEP, Neoflon FEP,  and Teflon FEP
  • FPM/FKM (fluoroelastomer), trade names Viton, Tecnoflon FKM, DAI-EL, and Fluonox
  • PFA (perfluoroalkoxy alkane), trade name Chemfluor, Hostaflon PFA, and Teflon PFA
  • PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene), trade name Teflon
  • PVDF (polyvinylidene fluoride), trade names Hyldar, KF, Kynar, and Solef
  • PVF (perfluoroalkoxy), trade names Teflon PVF, Fluon PVF, and Dyneon PVF

Only some of these fluoropolymers have the properties that allow them to be injection molded. What makes the difference is whether they are melt processable.

Melt Processable Fluoropolymers

For a fluoropolymer to be injection molded, it must be melt processable. And while some materials like PVF may offer excellent properties, they cannot be injection molded. . However, PFA, FEP, PVDF, ETFE, ECTFE, and PCTFE are melt processable and can be injection molded. PTFE can also be injection molded, but it takes an extremely high level of skill and specialized equipment. In fact, just because a fluoropolymer can be injection molded does not mean there are not major challenges.

Common Issues With Injection Molding Fluoropolymers 

Injection molding offers a host of benefits in manufacturing and is a popular choice for a wide variety of components. However, there are certain problems that must be addressed for fluoropolymer injection molding, including high melt temperature, high melt viscosity, high shear sensitivity, and fluorine outgassing.

High Melt Temperature

A very high melt temperature is required to work with fluoropolymers, and the injection molding equipment and molds may reach temperatures up to 800°F. Hot runner systems are also needed, and careful attention goes into the design of runners and gates to encourage even flow of the material. However, the temperatures must remain controlled to avoid degrading the fluoropolymers.

High Melt Viscosity

Another complication lies in the fact that fluoropolymers such as PFA have a high melt viscosity, which is related to how flexible the polymer chains are as well as their degree of entanglement. Polymers that have a high melt viscosity flow very slowly even in their melted form and the melt can actually fracture if it encounters sharp edges or gates and runners that are too small.

High Shear Sensitivity

Another challenging aspect of injection molding a fluoropolymer is their high shear sensitivity. A material that exhibits shear sensitivity changes its viscosity when subject to stress or pressure, which is a problem. The viscosity of the polymer melt will vary significantly as it goes through the various stages of injection molding.

Fluorine Outgassing

Fluorine outgassing occurs when these polymers are melted, presenting another issue because of the corrosive effects of fluorine gas on barrels, screws, nozzles, runner systems, and molds. To make matters more complicated, fluorine gas is also highly toxic. 

Solutions for Injection Molding Fluoropolymers

Solutions have been developed to address the challenges involved with fluoropolymer injection molding, starting with thermal management. 

Thermal Management

Managing the temperature of the polymer melt as it passes through the various stages in the injection molding is vital to keeping the polymer flowing predictably. It also helps to ensure the integrity of the final part by preventing degradation of the polymer melt. The different zones and points have specific temperatures at which they should be kept and this requires highly precise thermal management. 

Gate, Runner, and Mold Design

While any injection molded part requires careful design of the gate, runner, and mold, this is especially important in the context of fluoropolymers. Depending on the fluoropolymer being processed, there are certain key dimensions for gates, hot runner systems, and the mold cavity. There also exist recommendations for the gating systems, such as whether tunnel, sprue, or fan gating should be used. In addition, careful design is needed to prevent issues with melt fracture.

Corrosion Resistant Materials

Barrels, screws, nozzles, runner systems, and molds must be made from materials that are corrosion resistant. The materials for these components have to possess excellent high-temperature material properties including hardness and wear resistance. Ther barrel, screw, and nozzle must be manufactured from special materials. 

For example, barrel material options include IDM 260, Xaloy 309, and Wexco B022 often work well. Effective screw materials are usually certain grades of  Inconel and Hastelloy as well as Haynes 242 alloy. For the nozzle tip there are Hastelloy grades that provide the needed properties.For the molds, materials such as plated tool steel or nickel alloys possess the needed corrosion resistance, thermal performance, and wear properties. 

Venting

Fluorine outgasses can be managed with proper venting, but the materials for the vent must be extremely corrosion resistant. Furthermore, the vents must be kept very clean. In addition to the danger of outgassing, gas trapped within the mold must also be addressed in order to avoid part defects and reduce the maintenance required to keep the molds ready to use.

Conclusion

There are certain fluoropolymers that can be injection molded, but certain issues must be addressed to successfully manufacture parts of the quality and integrity needed. And while there are many companies that are good at injection molding parts, not all of them have the equipment and experience to injection mold fluoropolymers. 

Here at Advanced EMC, we have the equipment and skill to successfully manufacture fluoropolymer parts through injection molding. In fact, we offer engineering assistance to help you select the best type and grade of material and configure your parts to make them as manufacturable as possible. Our injection molding machines range from 75 to 500 ton and we have a Class 100,000 clean room if needed. Contact us today for all your fluoropolymer needs. 

by Sara McCaslin, PhD Sara McCaslin, PhD No Comments

PTFE Spring Energized Seals for Cryogenic Applications

When cryogenic temperatures are involved, a failed seal can have extremely serious repercussions that can include personal safety, explosions, damage to local ecosystems, and highly expensive downtime. One of the most dependable solutions to date for sealing in cryogenic environments is PTFE spring-energized seals. In this week’s blog post, we will discuss PTFE spring energized seals for cryogenic applications!

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x12638r_teflon-spring-energized-ptfe-seals-by-advanced-emc_tech

Cryogenic Applications of Spring-Energized Seals

There are a host of cryogenic applications that depend on spring-energized seals. In the medical field, they are indispensable for MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) equipment. In space applications, spring-energized seals can be found in equipment for radio astronomy and infrared telescopes as well as rocket propulsion systems. LNG fueling systems and compressors depend on them, as well as speciality gas manufacturing. Spring-energized seals are also needed in both pharmaceutical and medical research and can be found in scientific instrumentation for a wide range of disciplines. They are also critical for many food, dairy, and pharmaceutical applications.

But why do so many cryogenic environments require the use of a spring-energized seal?

Sealing Issues at Cryogenic Temperatures

The temperature range for cryogenic applications ranges from below freezing at -32°F down to absolute zero at -460°F. At these cryogenic temperatures, many seal materials begin to behave unpredictably, often exhibiting stiff or even brittle behavior. And changes in temperatures will cause dimensional changes in the seal, often compromising the integrity of the seal. To complicate things further, media at cryogenic temperatures may be chemically aggressive toward certain seal jacket materials. Finally, lubricants are usually prohibited at cryogenic temperatures because of issues with freezing, which means that a suitable material should be low friction and dry running.

Using the right sealing solution, however, can provide a reliable, gas-tight sealing system. And that, in turn, supports compliance with applicable safety and environmental regulations. 

Spring-Energized Seals

Unlike traditional seals, spring-energized seals include an energizer that applies a near-constant load throughout the circumference of the seal. This allows the lip of the seal to remain in contact with the mating surface in a variety of situations, including …

  • Eccentricity
  • Out of round 
  • Misalignment
  • Wear
  • Pressure fluctuations
  • Temperature fluctuations

In the context of cryogenic applications, spring-energized seals are used to maintain contact with the surface during the dimensional variations that result from temperature changes. In addition, spring-energized seals can be used in both static and dynamic applications, including rotating and/or oscillating movement.

Spring-Energizers Suitable for Cryogenic Temperatures

Spring energizers come in many different geometries, but for cryogenic applications, metal V ribbon springs are typically used. V springs, also known as cantilever springs, are used in extremely harsh operating environments and work extremely well in both cryogenic and vacuum pressure applications. 

A key feature of metal V springs as an energizer is their ability to provide a moderate yet very consistent load over a wide range of deflection. This aids in securing the lip of the seal against the mating surface even during dimensional changes due to wide temperature variations. For cryogenic environments, the spring-energizer is typically manufactured from either stainless steel or Inconel, Elgiloy, or Hastelloy.

However, in some instances, elastomeric o-rings can be used as the energizer as opposed to using a metal spring. O-ring energizers are durable and work well under a wide range of temperatures, but are best used when metal must be avoided in an application. 

Media Involved in Cryogenic Applications

As discussed earlier, there are a wide range of applications that require highly reliable sealing solutions. Spring-energized seals are excellent at maintaining seal integrity under such conditions, but thought must also be given to the seal jacket material, which will be in direct contact with media at cryogenic temperatures.

The most typical media of concern include …

  • LOx (Liquid Oxygen)
  • LHE (Liquid Helium)
  • LH2 (Liquid Hydrogen)
  • LAR (Liquid Argon)
  • LN2 (Liquid Nitrogen)
  • Liquid Xenon
  • LCO2 (Liquid Carbon Dioxide)
  • LNG (Liquid Natural Gas)
  • LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas)
  • LMG (Liquid Methane Gas)
  • Various refrigerants and coolants

When a spring-energized seal is being specified, it is extremely important to select a material that not only has excellent properties at cryogenic temperatures but is compatible with the chemicals involved.

PTFE Spring-Energized Seals

One of the most widely used seal jackets for cryogenic applications is PTFE, better known by the trade name Teflon. PTFE provides excellent performance at a range of operating temperatures, including cryogenic, as well as pressure fluctuations. Its wide operating temperature range is complemented by a wide operating pressure range that includes vacuum pressures.

Virgin PTFE has the lowest coefficient of friction of any solid material, and even with the addition of filler materials it still remains extremely low. Lubricants will not be needed when a PTFE sealing jacket is used because it is self-lubricating, dry running, and exhibits no start and stop behavior. PTFE is also the most chemically compatible polymer available, solving the problem of chemical resistance issues. And for food, dairy, and pharmaceutical applications, PTFE is available in FDA-approved grades.

Conclusion

Where reliable sealing is critical in the presence of cryogenic temperatures, PTFE spring-energized seals are a proven solution in applications ranging from the rocket propulsion systems to MRIs. If you are looking for the right seal that offers superior performance in a cryogenic operating environment, contact Advanced EMC today. Our team of sealing experts can guide you in the process of specifying the right kind of cryogenic PTFE spring-energized seal.

by Sara McCaslin, PhD Sara McCaslin, PhD No Comments

PCTFE Ball Valve Seats for Low Permeation Applications

Ball valve seats that show signs of swelling, blistering, or “popcorning” have been permeated at a molecular level. Needless to say, this can cause some serious issues such as leaks and catastrophic failure. The solution is to find a ball valve seat material that is highly resistant to permeation and an excellent choice would be PCTFE. In this week’s blog post, we will talk about PCTFE Ball Valve Seats and how they are used in Low Permeation Applications.

Introduction

Certain types of media may permeate the ball valve seat, leading to swelling, blistering, and leakage. Applications such as chemical processing and petrochemical transport may require a seat material that is resistant to permeation but still exhibits key properties such as low friction, compressive strength, and resistance to deformation is still needed.

How Permeation Works

Permeation refers to the molecular level penetration of gases, vapors, and liquids through a solid material via diffusion. In diffusion, molecules pass from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration. This can be extremely problematic when a ball valve is being used because of the potential distortion and leaking of the ball valve seat.

Keep in mind that permeation can take place through a surprising variety of materials, including metals and polymers. In addition, some materials are only semipermeable, which means that only ions or molecules with certain properties can pass through the material. 

The rate of permeation is directly related to crystal structure and porosity, which is why factors such as density and molecular structure are important when selecting materials for applications where low permeation is important. 

Why Permeation is a Problem for Ball Valve Seats

Gas permeation can not only compromise gas stream purity but also result in dimensional changes of the ball valve seat. One form of these dimensional changes is swelling, which can occur if the permeating media becomes a part of the molecular structure of the material. In reinforced polymers, such as glass-reinforced PTFE, swelling can cause separation between the glass fibers and the PTFE matrix. 

Another common manifestation of permeation is referred to as “popcorning” or “popcorn polymerization” which occurs due to a polymeric chemical reaction. And among the most notorious source of problems with popcorning and swelling are monomers with extremely small molecular sizes such as Butadiene and Styrene.

Both popcorning and swelling will lead to leakage, and over time popcorning will completely destroy the ball valve seat. This makes the choice of ball valve seat materials extremely important for applications where this is a problem.

PCTFE for Low Permeability Ball Valve Seat Applications

One of the best materials for a ball valve seat application where permeability is a problem would be PCTFE (Polychlorotrifluoroethylene), a thermoplastic chlorofluoropolymer. PCTFE is sometimes referred to as Modified PTFE or PCTFE, as well as by trade names Kel-F, Voltalef, and Neoflon. PCTFE is often thought of as a second-generation PTFE material that maintains the chemical and thermal resistance of PTFE along with its low friction. It is also similar to other fluoropolymers such as PFA or FEP.

One of the defining characteristics of PCTFE is that it has a much more dense molecular structure and a low void and micro-porosity content when compared to similar ball valve seat materials. This gives it a very low permeability coefficient, which means that the likelihood of it swelling or popcorning is far lower than other materials. For example, its permeability for O2, N2, CO2, and H2 are 1.5 x 10-10, 0.18 x 10-10, 2.9 x 10-10, and 56.4 x 10-10 darcy, respectively.

PCTFE also provides improved toughness and strength along with good deformation recovery and excellent creep and cold-flow resistance. In addition, it has a wide operating temperature range of -100°F to 500°F. In fact, it performs extremely well at cryogenic temperatures. Because of its low friction, it also results in a very low ball valve operating torque. PCTFE also exhibits zero moisture absorption and is non-wetting. 

PCTFE works well in operating environments where other polymers may fail. For example, it is well adapted to nuclear service that may involve high radiation exposure, is non-flammable (D 635), and is resistant to attack by the vast majority of chemicals and oxidizing agents. The only chemicals that might lead to slight swelling are ethers, esters, aromatic solvents, and halocarbon compounds.

In addition to its use in applications requiring low permeability, PCTFE is also considered an excellent choice for applications that need a low-outgassing material and is commonly used in semiconductor applications. Also note that there are PCTFE grades that are FDA approved, such as Fluorolon PCTFE 2800. 

Conclusion

Fuel processing and transport, chemical processing, petrochemical systems, and emissions control are just a few of the applications where low permeation materials may be necessary. For such applications, PCTFE is an excellent option for ball valve seat materials because it combines the basic properties necessary for a seat with an extremely low rate of permeation.

If you need a solution to blistering, swelling, or popcorning of a ball valve seat, contact the experts at Advanced EMC. Our sealing team will work with you to find the right ball valve seat material for your application.