Polyethylene: all the information!

Polyethylene is among the most important types of plastic. In fact, this is the most common type in terms of the volume of production of different types of plastic around the world. Polyethylene is a particularly prominent term in the world of modern manufacturing. This substance and its subtypes are widely used for a wide variety of purposes. Whether you decide to use a plastic material in production or any other material, polyethylene is one of the materials that is highly recommended to be on the list of materials you are considering using. So what are polyethylene, what types exist and what are its uses? All the answers in the article in front of you.

What is polyethylene?

Polyethylene is also often described using the abbreviation PE. It is a thermoplastic polymer based on the compound ethylene. So it is in principle a type of plastic, although it does not have to be “plastic” in the sense of a material that can be changed in shape under the influence of high heat. In fact, it can be produced in a variety of requested features according to need.

How did they discover polyethylene?

The history of chemistry is full of interesting discoveries and developments, so it happened that over time many useful types of plastic were developed. Quite a few of these discoveries happened seemingly by chance, the same goes for polyethylene. In fact, polyethylene was discovered by accident twice! First in 1898, by a German chemist named Hans von Pachmann who was working on a different type of material. At this point, polyethylene was little studied, defined in terms of its basic properties and given its name. But it was an inconvenient material for industrial processing. In 1933, a solution to this was found by chance by two researchers at the chemical industry company ICI in Great Britain. The two were working on a certain process and didn’t notice that their system had oxygen that wasn’t supposed to be there, as a result the new material was obtained. Two years later, another employee of the company delved into the “strange accident” and with its help developed an orderly way to repeat it. This is how the accident turned into an orderly and useful production process. It did not end here, the development of polyethylene continued through a series of improvements and discoveries, including a discovery that led to the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, for Carl Ziegler in collaboration with Giulio Natta.

Polyethylene types

These are some prominent examples of the different types of polyethylene:

High density polyethylene

high-density polyethylene (HDPE) is a plastic with high strength and good chemical resistance. That is why it is seen in many tank and piping applications where liquid materials of the types that require such resistance are passed through.

Cross-linked polyethylene

Cross-linked polyethylene (also known as PEX) is a type of polyethylene that is very common in construction and as an electrical insulator.

Low density polyethylene

Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is suitable for contact with food products and may also be transparent. It is used for example in drink bottles or food bags.

Very high molecular weight polyethylene

Ultra high molecular weight polyethylene is a very strong and durable type of polyethylene. This feature is reflected in its special uses such as bearings or artificial joints.

What are its uses?

As part of the development of plastic products , it is possible to use polyethylene with different properties according to the intended use. It can also be processed in different ways. If it is plastic injection or foaming (expanded polyethylene or EPE). Its most prominent use is for the production of packaging and bags. But there are in addition to this countless other uses. Some common examples are a kitchen cutting board, bearings, various types of piping and food containers. Foamed polyethylene is used for packing packaging.

What are the properties of polyethylene?

Among the types of plastic, polyethylene excels in these aspects:

  • High chemical resistance – it is particularly resistant to various and strong chemical substances that may damage other types of plastic (and other types of materials in general).
  • Structural durability – the material is very impact resistant and there are types of polyethylene that are also mechanically very strong (such as Ultra high molecular weight polyethylene). However, it is basically a relatively weak material.
  • Heat resistance – Cross-linked polyethylene is a very heat resistant type. However, even here, the basic material is not very resistant to heat and has a relatively low melting point.
  • Flexibility and lightness – this material can also be created in a way that makes it soft, flexible and relatively light. For example, the production of bags based on low density polyethylene.
  • Electrical insulation – the material has a good ability to insulate electrically. It also has a certain disadvantage in this regard, the tendency to accumulate an electrostatic charge, but this can be prevented with the help of various chemical additives.
  • Transparency – Polyethylene can be given different levels of transparency as needed.

Common questions

Who discovered polyethylene?

The German chemist Hans von Pachmann discovered this substance in 1898. The industrial processes needed to produce it in a stable, convenient and profitable manner were later developed at the British ICI company and in other places.

What can be done with polyethylene?

This material comes in a variety of variations that allow many different uses. Bags and packaging are two examples of areas where polyethylene is very prominent. It is also possible to connect different parts of the material using several different methods, including soldering and gluing. This aspect can expand its uses both in production and in repairs.

What are the different types of polyethylene?

There are many types, among which low density polyethylene, high density polyethylene, very high molecular weight polyethylene and cross-linked polyethylene stand out. Each of the types has its own special combination of features and accordingly the uses that suit it.

In conclusion

Bottom line, this is a material that proves itself in the field to be very useful among the different types of plastic. If you are engaged in manufacturing products, it is important that you know the world of plastics and it is important to know polyethylene.

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