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Polymer Properties andCharacteristicsPolymer Properties andCharacteristics 289

With these properties in mind, we can describe the general nature of the
various types of polymers as follows:
1) Thermoplastics. This refers to a polymer that can be melted into a liquid
phase and then cooled to reform the original solid polymer. For most
thermoplastics, this cycle can be repeated numerous times; however, over a
long period of time, some degradation in the MW of the polymer will be
seen (this is one of the limitations of plastics recycling where the properties
of the recycled polymer may limit its potential uses to less valuable products
than the original polymer). The Tg would typically be at room temperature
or above. Polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene are examples of
such materials and find use in molded toys, food wrap films, and molded
shapes of many types.
2) Thermosets. These types of polymers are chemically crosslinked in such a
way that they do not have the ability to melt in the traditional sense. Epoxy
resins are examples of such materials. When heated, they will tend to char
and burn. They are suitable for rigid plastic structures such as tanks.
Because they cannot be melted in a normal sense, it is not possible to r ecycle
these types of plastics in an economical way.
3) Elastomers. These are polymers whose Tg is below room temperature and
thus can be stretched or fitted around a mold at room temperature. A sim-
ple rubber band is an example of such a material. These materials find use
in applications where flexibility at room temperature is important, such as
gaskets or medical tubing.
4) Emulsions and Latexes. These are suspensions of polymers in either an
aqueous or organic liquid where the polymer is suspended in the solution
by means of surface chemistry which interacts with the solution. A house-
hold latex paint is an example of such a system. The paint may look as if it is
a solution of polymer in water, but if a paint can is left unused, but covered,
for an extended period of time and then opened, a clear water layer is seen
at the top. Agitation will redisperse the latex polymer in the water solution.
This behavior is enabled via a unique polymerization technology that coats
the surface of the polymer beads with functional groups that are attracted
to polar molecules such as water.
5) Engineering thermoplastics. This general term is used primarily to desig-
nate thermoplastics with very high temperature resistance (i.e., high Tg)
and/or having a high degree of chemical resistance to solvents and acids.
Examples of such materials include nylon (frequently used in under the
hood automobile applications where gasoline resistance is critical),
polycarbonate (having high temperature resistance and high impact
strength), acrylonitrilebutadienestyrene terpolymer (ABS), and fluori-
nated polymers.