What is PE, and what is it used for?
Polyethylene is a thermoplastic polymer with a variable crystalline structure that can be used in a variety of applications depending on the type. It is one of the most widely produced plastics in the world, with tens of millions of tons produced worldwide each year. The commercial process (the Ziegler-Natta catalysts) that made PE such a success was developed in the 1950s by two scientists, Karl Ziegler of Germany and Giulio Natta of Italy.
There are several different types of polyethylene, and each one is best suited for a specific set of applications. In general, High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) is much more crystalline than Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE), and it is used in a variety of applications that are entirely different from those of Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE). For example, LDPE is widely used in plastic packaging, such as grocery bags and plastic wrap. HDPE, on the other hand, has a wide range of applications in the construction industry (for example, it is used in the fabrication of drain pipes). Ultrahigh Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMW) is used in high-performance applications such as medical devices and bulletproof vests.
What are the characteristics of polyethylene?
Now that we know what polyethylene is used for, let's take a look at some of its most important characteristics. PE is classified as a “thermoplastic” (as opposed to a “thermoset”) based on how the plastic reacts to heat. The melting point of thermoplastic materials (110-130 degrees Celsius in the case of LDPE and HDPE, respectively) is the point at which they become liquid. The ability of thermoplastics to be heated to their melting point, cooled, and reheated repeatedly without significant degradation is a valuable property. Instead of burning, thermoplastics such as polyethylene liquefy, allowing them to be easily injection molded and then recycled. Thermoset plastics, on the other hand, can only be heated once (typically during the Plastic Injection Mold Services process). The first heating causes thermoset materials to set (similar to a two-part epoxy), resulting in a chemical change that cannot be reversed. If you tried to heat a thermoset plastic to a high temperature for a second time, it would burn. Because of this characteristic, thermoset materials are poor candidates for recycling.
What is the process of making PE?
Polyethylene, like other plastics, begins with the distillation of hydrocarbon fuels (in this case, ethane) into lighter groups known as "fractions," some of which are combined with other catalysts to produce plastics (typically via polymerization or polycondensation). More information on the procedure can be found here.
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