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Synthetic Polymers

Synthetic polymers are large molecules composed of repeating subunits called monomers. These monomers undergo polymerization, chemically bonding to form long polymer chains. The polymerization process can occur through various methods, such as addition polymerization or condensation polymerization [1-4].

Features of Synthetic Polymers

Synthetic polymers’ molecular chains contribute to the diverse properties that make them valuable in various industries as reliable and adaptable materials. Synthetic polymers have many features, including: [1-4]

  • Strength: Synthetic polymers are strong, durable, and lightweight.
  • Cost: Synthetic polymers are inexpensive to manufacture.
  • Flexibility: Synthetic polymers are flexible and have good elasticity.
  • Other features: Synthetic polymers are resistant to corrosion, lack conductivity, and are transparent.

Types of Synthetic Polymers

Synthetic polymers are broadly classified into two main types: thermoplastic and thermoset. [1-4]

Thermoplastic Polymers

Thermoplastic polymers are known for their ability to soften when heated and harden when cooled repeatedly. This characteristic allows them to be molded into different shapes without significant chemical change. Examples of thermoplastic materials include polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). These materials are widely used in packaging, automotive components, consumer goods, and construction applications due to their versatility, recyclability, and ease of processing.

Thermoset Polymers

Thermoset polymers possess a unique property that sets them apart from thermoplastics. They become permanently hardened once they undergo a curing process involving heat or chemical reactions. They cannot be reshaped or remolded like thermoplastics. This irreversible transformation gives them excellent dimensional stability and resistance to heat, chemicals, and electrical conductivity. Thermosetting plastics find applications in electrical insulators, automotive parts such as tires and brake pads, aerospace components, adhesives, coatings, and composite materials.

While thermoplastics offer flexibility in design and processing capabilities with recyclability benefits, thermosetting plastics provide enhanced durability under extreme conditions where dimensional stability is critical. Both types have their own set of advantages depending on the intended use case.

Examples of Synthetic Polymers

Here are some examples of synthetic polymers and their diverse applications: [1-4]

1. Polyethylene (PE) is one of the most widely used synthetic polymers. Due to its outstanding strength and flexibility, PE is commonly found in plastic bags, bottles, and containers. PE is also used in water pipes, insulation materials, and artificial joints.

2. Polypropylene (PP) is another versatile synthetic polymer known for its high resistance to heat and chemicals. It finds extensive use in automotive parts, packaging materials, furniture, and textiles. PP-based fibers are widespread for their durability and are commonly used in carpets, upholstery fabrics, and geotextiles.

3. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a widely used synthetic polymer with diverse applications. PVC pipes are commonly used for plumbing systems due to their excellent corrosion resistance. PVC also finds use in electrical cables, window frames, flooring materials, and even medical devices such as IV bags.

4. Polystyrene (PS) is a lightweight synthetic polymer that can easily be molded into various shapes. It is commonly used for packaging materials like foam trays and disposable cups. PS can also be found in insulation panels for buildings or as a component in consumer electronics.

5. Nylon is a synthetic polymer that revolutionized the textile industry with its strength and durability. Due to its high tensile strength, nylon is widely used in producing clothing items such as stockings, swimwear, sportswear, and even parachutes.

6. Polyester fibers have gained immense popularity in the textile industry due to their versatility. They are widely used for clothing items like shirts, dresses, and jackets and home furnishings like curtains and upholstery. Additionally, polyester fibers are extensively utilized in manufacturing plastic packaging materials such as bottles or food containers.

Synthetic Polymers

Natural Polymers vs. Synthetic Polymers

Natural polymers are derived from natural sources such as plants, animals, or microorganisms. On the other hand, synthetic polymers are manufactured and produced through chemical reactions. [1-4]

To better understand the characteristics of natural and synthetic polymers, let us take a look at the following table:

PropertyNatural PolymersSynthetic Polymers
SourceDerived from plants and animalsManufactured or derived from petrochemicals
StructureOften complex, irregularOften more uniform and regular
BiodegradabilityOften biodegradableVaries, some are non-biodegradable
StrengthVariable, depending on the sourceCan be engineered for specific strengths
CostThey can be expensive due to extraction and processingGenerally less expensive due to manufacturing processes
ExamplesCellulose, proteins, natural rubberPolyethylene, PVC, nylon


Q.1. What are three ways synthetic polymers affect the environment?

Ans. The three ways synthetic polymers affect the environment are:1. Plastic pollution in oceans and landfills, 2. Non-biodegradable nature of synthetic polymers, and 3. Microplastics contamination in water bodies and food chains.

Q.2. Who created the first synthetic polymer?

Ans. Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland created the first synthetic polymer, Bakelite, in 1907.

Q.3. Is cellulose a natural or synthetic polymer?

Ans. Cellulose is a natural polymer.

Q.4. Is Kevlar a synthetic polymer?

Ans. Kevlar is a synthetic polymer.

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