Plastics that will shape the future
Plastics that will shape the future
Synthetic materials have been part of our lives for quite some time. Since the introduction of nylon in the 1940s, we have used synthetic materials in almost every aspect of our lives.
We have synthetic materials everywhere – from clothing and medicine to athletic wear and tactical gear. What are synthetic materials anyway?
Materials made by humans in laboratories or in industry using chemical processes not normally found in nature are called synthetic materials.
In the HydroGraph infographic above, we look at the synthetic materials that have the potential to transform the future.
Five synthetic materials with the power to change the world
Chemists have discovered new catalysts and developed new synthetic routes to create materials with truly specific applications.
Today, synthetic materials have gone beyond everyday household items and have shaped several major industries. Here are five types that will be authoritative in the future:
As we are often reminded, plastics do not degrade and are visible sources of pollution. To complicate matters further, the building blocks of these materials, which we call monomers, historically come from crude oil, a non-renewable resource.
But that is changing now. Bioplastics are plastics that either come from a renewable resource, are biodegradable, or are both. Bioplastics represent an evolution in the plastics market due to their advantages in the development of new applications and technologies.
2. Plastic electronics
Plastic electronics was originally discovered in the late 1970’s and is an expanding technology that brings us a variety of products with flexible and transparent electronic circuits.
Instead of relying on conventional, rigid and brittle silicon chips to process information, plastics technology relies on novel organic materials on which to print the coding.
Current state-of-the-art microchip factories are about the size of three soccer fields and require purpose-built facilities. In contrast, plastic electronic circuits have the potential to be made in small laboratories.
3. Self-healing polymers
Self-healing is a well-known phenomenon in nature: a broken bone fuses after some time, and if the skin is damaged, the wound stops bleeding and heals again.
This concept can be mimicked to create polymeric materials with the ability to regenerate after undergoing degradation or wear.
Inspired by biological systems, new materials can now heal in response to traditionally irreversible damage. Current research in this area shows how different self-healing mechanisms can be tailored to create even more versatile materials.
4. Intelligent and reactive polymers
Gels and synthetic rubbers can easily adapt their shape to changes in their environment, such as temperature or acidity.
This is proving incredibly useful in developing smart materials for sensors, drug delivery devices, and many other applications.
For example, mechanophores are molecular entities that can change the properties of a polymer when subjected to mechanical forces. These could have any number of industrial applications, particularly through the incorporation of self-healing technology.
5. Nanocomposites and nanomaterials
Nanomaterials are synthetic compounds that are less than 100 nm in length. They are balled together in multiple rows to create an incredibly light and flexible yet durable synthetic material.
Because of these properties, nanomaterials have several significant applications in aerospace, chemical, and aeronautical applications, as well as in products related to optics, solar hydrogen, fuel cells, batteries, sensors, and power generation.
Given that one of the most pressing challenges of our time is finding alternative, environmentally friendly energy sources, nanomaterials are a crucial component in applications such as solar cells, paints, and other green chemistry applications.
The power of graphene nanomaterials
Graphene has emerged as one of the most promising nanomaterials due to its unique combination of exceptional properties.
This disruptive technology could open up new markets and even replace existing technologies or materials. No other material has the superlative breadth of graphene, making it ideal for myriad applications.
From medicine, electronics and defense to desalination, art restoration and alternative fuels, the impact of graphene research is significant.
Extensive research and production of nanomaterials such as graphene are already underway. With its patented HydroGraph process, HydroGraph was able to develop a highly efficient and environmentally friendly process for the mass production of graphene powder.
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