What is Polyethylene Material? And What Do We Use It For?

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Polyethylene is one of the most commonly used plastics in the world. It has a linear structure and is known as addition polymers. Polyethylene is a light thermoplastic known for its versatility. Polyethylene is a durable plastic material used for food wraps, shopping bags, detergent bottles and automobile tanks. Polyethylene material can also be modified to take on the elastic properties of rubber.

How is Polyethylene Material Made?

The primary constituent for the production of polyethylene material is ethylene, also known as ethene. The chemical formula of ethylene is C2H4. Polyethylene is produced from ethylene by the process of polymerization. This polymerization reaction is highly exothermic. Being a small-sized molecule, ethylene is relatively stable. Therefore suitable conditions are required for the conversion of ethylene into polyethylene. The most commonly used catalyst for this chemical reaction is titanium chloride, also known as Ziegler-Natta Catalyst.

What are the Different Types of Polyethylene?

Polyethene can be classified into several different types based on the material’s density and structure. The properties and applications of polyethylene depend on the branching structure. Here are some most common types of polyethylene.

  • Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
  • Linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE)
  • High molecular weight polyethylene (HMWPE)
  • Ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE)
  • Ultra-low molecular weight polyethylene (ULMWPE)
  • High-density polyethylene (HDPE)
  • Cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE)
  • High-density cross-linked polyethylene (HDXLPE)
  • Medium density polyethylene (MDPE)

Some Important Properties of Polyethylene

  • Polyethylene is thermoplastic with high flexibility.
  • It is a non-toxic material that does not produce harmful substances in the environment.
  • The mechanical strength of polyethylene material is lower than that of polypropylene material.
  • The hardness and rigidity of polyethylene are relatively lower than other plastics.
  • It is a highly ductile material.
  • Polyethylene is made up of nonpolar saturated hydrocarbons.
  • They have a waxy texture.
  • They are excellent insulators and are therefore used for insulating wires and cables.
  • Polyethylene has high melting points, usually between 115 to 130 degrees Celsius.
  • They are highly resistant to acids and bases.
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What Are the Uses of Polyethylene?

Polyethylene has a wide range of applications due to its versatility. A combination of various excellent properties makes polyethylene an ideal choice for many industries. About 6800 polyethylene grades are available today. Here are some important applications of polyethylene material.

  • Polyethylene materials are used to manufacture crates, bottles, trays, drums, shopping bags, trash bags, films and food packing materials.
  • They are used to produce medical products such as personal protective equipment, patches, containers, bag headers etc.   
  • Polyethylene offers resistance to chemicals and hydrolysis; therefore, they are used in manufacturing water pipes, gas pipes, sewer pipes, etc.
  • Polyethylene is used to prepare household products such as containers and kitchenware, ice boxes, bowls, ketchup bottles, houseware, buckets etc.
  • Polyethylene is used for the insulation of wires and cables.
  • It is used for the manufacturing of automobile parts and power tools.
  • Being corrosion-free, cost-effective, durable and low-maintenance material, polyethylene is an ideal choice for the construction industry.
  • Military use polyethylene in manufacturing of helmets, body armour, tanks, aircrafts and communication equipment.

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John Mclane