Thermoplastic Elastomers: The Good and The Bad

By scientific definition, our DNA (the building blocks of life), and the bottle of coke that is in your hand share a common characteristic. They are both polymers! Polymers are made of millions of monomer chains that result to materials that are of very high molecular weight. Polymers also play a vital role in technology. The development of a breakout material called the thermoplastic elastomer ignited advancements in industrial and automotive technology. This material has a very high molecular weight, however since polymer chains are also made of bonds the intermolecular forces that act upon these bonds weaken when they interact with heat. This downside was turned into an advantage by scientists; since these materials become viscous liquids when exposed to high heat, reshaping them has been possible. Experts were able to use it as wire insulators, containers, gaskets and even footwear.

thermoplastic elastomer

thermoplastic elastomer

Application

Thermoplastic elastomer compounds are seen everywhere. A compound called polypropylene is used in food packaging, interior rims, and instrument panels. This compound has a very distinct quality. It is very low absorbent which makes it very stain resistant. Some materials that are composed of this thermoplastic elastomer are now even used in clothing and home furnishings like carpets because of this characteristic. Custom polypropylene polymers are also beginning to flock the market. This is because these compounds can be specially manufactured depending on the industry that they are going to be used at. Scientists are now able to control the tensile strength, malleability, hardness and flexibility of these compounds.

Although they slightly break easier compared to polyethelyne, it softens at a much higher temperature. It requires 40 degrees Celsius more to soften them up! This allows them to be great heat resisting insulators. Check S&E Specialty Polymers for more details.

Advantages 

Unlike a material made out of plastic, a thermoplastic elastomercomposed material is easier to recycle. This can be attributed to their ability to be molded, reshaped and reused. These materials also require less compounding because they are already sturdy as they are. No need to add reinforcing agents, cure systems nor stabilizers. This also allows cost efficiency in production. A thermoplastic elastomer manufacturercan save more resources because variations in weighing and metering the components are homogeneous. It also consumes less energy and quality control is also easier.

Disadvantages

With the rise in demand for these materials, causing a problem in landfill space. Aside from that, these materials are harnessed from a non-renewable source: petroleum oil. This resource is important but is also beginning to become scarce. Petroleum oil also plays a vital role in the economy of today’s world. Oil supply even shows power and progress. Aside from that, manufacturing new polymers costs less compared to reshaping and recycling old ones. The amount of companies to do so are also limited.

Without these materials, life would have been a lot harder for us. It has brought us comfort and safety. The world of telecommunication has also benefited from these materials. You might not even read this article without it. Though it might have environmental issues, scientists are working hard to make them ecofriendly. So be glad that they are here and appreciate science.

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