Polymer Industry: Facts and Myths
What is a Polymer?
In basic terms a polymer is made up of several chemicals combined together; each of these is known as a ‘mer’. Combining these units over and over again will create a polymer. In ancient Greek ‘polymer’ literally means ‘many parts’.
There are two types of polymers:
This is where the links are joined together, end to end; effectively creating a rope like structure.
This type of polymer has multiple joints, allowing the cells to multiple in various directions. This creates virtually any shape or structure.
Polymers are used in a huge range of production items; but there is still a range of myths which have attached themselves to the facts:
Plastic Biodegrades – Myth
There has been a lot of hype in recent years regarding the use of plastics and how it is causing waste stockpiles. The response has been to create ‘biodegradable plastics’. However, no plastic is truly biodegradable.
If it is created from a thermoplastic type of polymer it is possible to recycle the plastic by melting it and reforming it.
The only exception to this rule is the polylactic acid which is created from corn biomass. This will degrade, but, it requires intense heat and a high level of humidity. This means it can only be degraded in a machine; not simply left in nature.
Polymers are non-Conductive – Myth
This is seen as one of the main reasons why they are used as insulation round electrical wires and other places in the home. As they do not conduct electricity they are safe to touch and use.
However, whilst most polymers do not conduct electricity there are some which do. In fact, some polymers have been discovered which are so effective at conducting electricity they are being used in a variety of electrical equipment; with impressive results.
Polymers are in Airplanes – Fact
They have been used for some time to help create the outer shell of an airplane. In fact, the latest Boeing 787 Dreamliner is 50% polymer based materials!
Polymers are Plastic – Myth
Initially the polymer was used in a variety of plastic applications. But, as time has evolved and an increasing number of scientists are investigating the uses of polymers; this is no longer the case.
Polymers can be used to create a sieve; separating gases; they can even be used to remove salt from sea water! In fact, virtually every research lab and chemical department in the world is now looking at the different ways in which polymers can be applied. Many of these new techniques are moving away from the traditional plastic approach.
One thing that is certain is that polymers have made a huge impact on modern life and their impact will be felt into the future. The truth is that this chemical compound can be altered in an almost infinite number of ways to create a huge array of practical products; in many cases at far less cost than the current methods.