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    Looking back over the (plastic) years…

    The Plastics Age


    As a youngster, I marvelled at the technological innovations that had occurred in my grandfather’s lifetime.   In the field of communications alone he had witnessed the introduction of space travel, the personal computer, air travel, television, radio, telephone and the internal combustion engine.


    In my own lifetime I experienced a couple of these innovations but I have seen the introduction of a catalogue of new polymeric materials which have transformed society.  When I was born, designers had a limited range to choose from –thermosets based on formaldehyde (‘Bakelite’) or thermoplastics such as polystyrene, acrylic and cellulose derivatives.  PVC was just beginning to overcome its decomposition and processability problems and polyethylene (LDPE) was still in the experimental stage.  Since then, the portfolio from which designers select materials has expanded enormously,  with polypropylene, high density polyethylene (HDPE), ABS, polycarbonate, PET, acetal, PTFE and a range of very high performance materials.


    I look at my grandchildren and wonder what new polymers will feature in their lifetime. Many interesting polymers have been produced in the laboratory but the cost of commercialisation is massive and we are not likely to see many new polymers for the bulk market.  Niche markets such as conducting polymers and polymers to mimic their biological counterparts seem likely and plastics and rubber produced from renewable resources has the political will, even if the jury is out on the environmental benefits.


    Written by Dr.Charlie Geddes for Hardie Polymers


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