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Polymer Additives


www.chemicalsknowledgehub.com


What role could graphene play in the future of polymers?


By Liam Critchley


While polymers are traditionally a cheap material, you only need to add a small amount of graphene into them to bring added benefits and make them last longer. In a more green-conscious society, graphene-enhanced polymers offer a way of reducing polymer waste and specialist methods are now available that can turn waste polymers (and other organic waste) into graphene, creating a circular process.


W


hen many people think of graphene, there is often a consensus that it is a high-end,


expensive material that is only going to be useful for the most advanced applications. Nothing could be further from the truth. This consensus is, in-part, due to the ‘wonder material’ hype from many media outlets, as well as the graphene industry being a dynamic, and rapidly changing industry. What is true one year may be outdated the next (and we’re seeing this most years at the moment). In fact, we’re now seeing graphene being used in more ‘lower-end’ applications where it is a simple additive, rather than in the higher-end technologies. The thought of graphene in


polymers is one that can seem an odd choice to those outside of the industry, especially from a cost perspective. After all, many single- use plastics and plastic products aim to have the cheapest product possible because they know that the products can be recycled (for the most part) afterwards. However, recycling is not always the best option for plastics. In some cases, the processing steps can cause the mechanical properties of the recycled polymers to be lower than those of the virgin plastic, so the use of some recycled polymers is limited. Additionally, we all know that not all polymers make it to recycling centres (they can end up in our oceans), so ideally, alternative ways need to be found for dealing with spent polymers. A dynamic and engaged


graphene industry means that there 40


Single-walled carbon nanotube-polyethylene composite material.


are lots of interesting developments occurring, and graphene now has the potential to play a role in the future of the plastics industry, both in the creation of plastic materials and in their removal from society once spent. Here, we look at how, and how commercial efforts are coming along.


Graphene-polymer composites One of the bigger, more widespread areas where graphene


intersects with polymers is in advanced composites. A lot of work has been done on these materials over the years in academia and the technology used to create these composites at larger scales is now being licensed. In addition, production can be done at large volumes.


One of the obvious benefits of traditional large-scale polymer manufacturing is its cost. One of the common misconceptions is that the addition of graphene


will significantly increase costs (because graphene is a much more expensive material than polymers). It would, if graphene were used in significant quantities. However, what you find is that often less than 1% of graphene (sometimes below 0.1%) is needed to bring about benefits in composites, so the cost does not really increase by much and you get added benefits. One example is TLC products [CONFIRM COMPANY NAME AND WEBSITE] in the US, which starts


March/April 2021 • Issue 2


(Photo © iStock / ollaweila)


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