Born of an accidental explosion, the PER is now widely used.
In March 1933, in London, a violent explosion destroyed a laboratory of Imperial Chemical Industries, today one of the largest chemical companies in the world. The presence of 8 grams of a white deposit intrigues the researchers. Indeed, its special characteristics have revealed both strength, flexibility, impermeability and insulation. This is the future polyethylene. It took two years to find the exact formula for the reaction of ethylene and benzaldehyde, which caused the explosion. Sir Robert Wattson, a Scottish engineer and radar inventor, plays a crucial role in this research.
In 1939, polyethylene was used as insulation for the electrical wiring of submarines of the American Navy. The Germans are studying fragments, found on bombs dropped on Berlin in 1944. After the war, it is in Germany that the companies BASF and Hoechst develop cross-linked polyethylene, even more resistant and more durable. The scientific exchanges between Germany (BASF) and the United States (Phillips Petroleum) then opened the way, around 1964, to a manufacture intended for the big consumer.
In the early 1980s, the exceptional corrosion resistance of this material allows its use in plumbing. The chemical companies of many countries (France, Denmark, Israel...) participate in the improvements. Today, three methods (the most important of which is the one developed in 1971 by Professor Thomas Engel in the framework of a United States / Sweden partnership) allow the industrial production of PER tubes (high density crosslinked polyethylene) or PEX for its international appellation.