Chemistry in action on and around the football field

  • Did you know that you can witness not only our football team in action in Germany, but also our chemistry?

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Stadium seating

What would a football match be without spectators? The most common production material for stadium seating is polypropylene.

Its durability, light weight and chemical resistance make polypropylene an excellent choice for stadium seating that needs to withstand the elements and prolonged use. Polypropylene is known for its flexibility and impact resistance. This makes it ideal for making seats that are comfortable to sit on during long games.

INEOS offers a Recycl-IN polypropylene that contains 50% of PCR (post-consumer recycled) and that can be used for stadium seating. In fact, it was our R&D centre in Neder-Over-Heembeek that developed the Recycl-IN range, which consists largely of recycled material. So when you are watching a match, you might be sitting on plastic that has been given a second life thanks to the innovative work of our colleagues!

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Football pitch drainage system

Although almost invisible, the integrity of a football pitch relies heavily on its drainage system. It ensures that the football pitch remain playable and safe, even in the face of adverse weather conditions.

For modern football pitches advanced drainage systems are a critical component, primarily designed to facilitate the rapid evacuation of water. These systems typically include a combination of porous materials such as gravel or sand, complemented by specialised pipes and geotextiles. The chemistry behind these components is complex, with each material selected for its unique properties that contribute to effective drainage.

One of the key materials used in football pitch drainage systems is geotextiles, synthetic fabrics designed to manage water flow and soil stability. These fabrics, often made from polypropylene or polyester, have high tensile strength and permeability, allowing water to pass through while preventing soil erosion.

In addition, perforated pipes play a vital role in draining water away from the playing surface. Typically made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) – produced by INEOS Inovyn in Europe – or corrugated high-density polyethylene (HDPE) – produced bij INEOS O&P in Lillo. The pipes have strategically placed perforations that allow water to pass through while maintaining structural integrity. The choice of pipe material is critical as it must withstand the pressure of soil and water without compromising performance. And at end of life these pipes are perfectly mechanically recycled.

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Goal net

The choice of materials for the net of a football goal is crucial to its performance and durability on the pitch. Polyethylene and nylon fibres are selected for their specific properties that make them ideal for this application. The fibres are tightly woven together to form a robust barrier capable of withstanding countless shots on goal

Polyethylene is a widely used polymer known for its strength, flexibility and resistance to abrasion and tearing. These properties make it well suited to withstand the impact of footballs kicked at high speed. In addition, polyethylene has excellent weather resistance, allowing the net to maintain its integrity even when exposed to harsh outdoor conditions such as sunlight, rain and wind.

Nylon, on the other hand, is valued for its exceptional tensile strength and elasticity. When woven into the net, nylon fibres provide additional reinforcement, ensuring that the net can withstand the force of the balls hitting it without stretching or breaking. The elasticity of nylon also allows the net to absorb some of the energy from the impact, reducing the risk of damage to the goal frame or surrounding area.

The combination of polyethylene and nylon fibres creates a synergistic effect, resulting in a net that is both strong and resilient. The tight weave of these fibres further enhances the durability of the net, preventing it from unravelling or loosening over time. As a result, the net can withstand countless hits and shots on goal without compromising its performance or structural integrity.

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Shin guards

Shin guards are an essential piece of equipment for football players, providing crucial protection for the shin and ankle during intense play. Styrenics are a perfect material for shin guards, such as INEOS Styrolution's KR38 styrene-butadiene copolymer. INEOS Styrolution has a site at Zandvliet in the port of Antwerp, where styrene-butadiene copolymer is produced.

The styrenics protect the athlete’s shin by absorbing external impacts – thus decreasing the risk of injurys. Styrenics also offer ample aesthetical possibilities, such as coloring or even transparent/translucent designs and easy moulding in a particular (brand) shape.


Vanishing spray

Have you ever wondered about the chemistry behind the vanishing spray that referees use on the pitch before free kicks?

Today an indispensable tool, it is based on a combination of butane and surfactants. But what exactly are these surfactants? Surfactants, such as alkoxides as the ethoxylates of sorbitan monolaurate or castor oil that INEOS Oxide produces in Zwijndrecht, play a key role in the formulation of foaming agents. Ethoxylates contribute to the stability of the foam, allowing it to spread evenly and adhere effectively to the playing surface. These compounds ensure accurate positioning during free kicks without leaving permanent marks.

By the way, did you know that the yellow and red referee's cards are also made of plastic? Polypropylene – one of the raw materials being produced at INEOS O&P in Geel –  for example, is used for that.



Every component of a football, from the outer layer to the inside, is carefully designed and manufactured using advanced chemical techniques.

The outer layer of a football, also known as the casing, is made from polyurethane. Polyurethane results from the reaction between two components, a (di)isocyanate and a polyol - one of the products that INEOS produces at our site in Zwijndrecht. Specialty PVC, as produced at 5 INEOS Inovyn sites in Europe including Jemeppe in Belgium – can also be used.

Polyurethane and PVC are chosen for their excellent water resistance and durability. These properties mean that the ball remains lightweight and retains its shape and performance in wet weather.

Beneath the outer layer is the lining, which is essential to the structure and resilience of the ball. This lining is often made up of several layers of nylon or polyester, both of which are polymers. Nylon provides strength and elasticity, while polyester offers good shape retention and durability. These materials ensure that the ball bounces well and lasts for a long time, even after intensive use.

The core of the football, the bladder, is the part that holds the air and gives the ball its round shape. The bladder is often made of butyl rubber, a synthetic rubber known for its airtightness. Butyl rubber ensures that the ball retains its pressure for longer, which is essential for a consistent game.

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