Synthetic Polymers

Synthetic Polymers

  • Synthetic polymers are man-made polymers designed for specific uses.

  • They are created by initiating a polymerisation reaction that links small molecules (monomers) together into long chains.

  • Examples of synthetic polymers include plastic (such as polyethylene and polypropylene), nylon, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and polystyrene.

Polymerisation Reactions

  • Synthetic polymers are typically made through addition polymerisation or condensation polymerisation.

  • Addition polymerisation involves the joining of unsaturated monomers (containing double or triple bonds) without the elimination of any atoms.

  • Condensation polymerisation involves the reaction of two different functional groups, with the elimination of a small molecule like water or hydrochloric acid.

  • Both processes continue until all the monomers have been used, resulting in high-molecular-weight polymers.

Addition Polymers

  • Polyalkene is an example of an addition polymer made from alkene monomers.

  • Polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyvinyl chloride are examples of polyalkenes used for different purposes such as packaging, insulation, and pipes respectively.

Condensation Polymers

  • Polyesters and polyamides (nylons) are examples of condensation polymers.

  • Polyesters are formed through the esterification reaction between a diol and a dicarboxylic acid.

  • Polyamides (nylons) are formed from the reaction between a diamine and a dicarboxylic acid.

  • Both types can be used in clothing, furnishings, and plastics, demonstrating the versatility of synthetic polymers.

Properties of Synthetic Polymers

  • Many synthetic polymers are resistant to weather, chemical and thermal degradation, making them long-lasting.

  • However, their resistance also means they don’t biodegrade easily, contributing to pollution and waste issues.

  • Synthetic polymers often have high tensile strength, elasticity, and plasticity, which helps them find use in a wide spectrum of industries, including, packaging, automotive, construction, and healthcare.

Environmental Impact

  • The manufacture and disposal of synthetic polymers can be harmful to the environment due to the release of greenhouse gases.

  • Non-degradable synthetic polymers can create waste disposal problems, leading to adverse effects such as pollution.

  • These factors highlight the importance of recycling synthetic polymers and developing biodegradable plastics.