History of polymer raw material - plastic resin

History of polymer raw materials - plastic resin  ①

In this series, we will examine the history of the plastics industry and how we have reached the present. The discovery of gutta-percha, used by indigenous peoples of Southeast Asia in the 1850s, is an important fact that isomers determine the properties of polymers, and is a good example of an early example of a principle widely used in modern polymer chemistry.


I get e-mails from time to time asking if I have ever heard of certain historical events related to the plastics industry. One of the things that gets a lot of attention is the story of the American inventor John Wesley Hyatt, who first created a material commonly referred to as the first plastic.

This material was patented in 1869 under the name Celluloid. In particular, Hyatt is the material that attracts the most attention, and because of the scarcity of ivory in the early 1860s, it was concerned about the impact this would have on the price of billiard balls.

It is true that he has won a prize of 10,000 dollars.

This story is very interesting for several reasons. First of all, it reinforces the idea deeply ingrained in the plastics industry that synthetic materials made through chemical geniuses have replaced and improved materials derived from natural sources. Another factor is the size of that monetary reward, which is almost $200,000 today.

As is usually the case, the actual story of the invention of celluloid is not only much more complex than this, it is also highly dependent on the achievements that preceded it. And the actual introduction of this material was possible because of another notable invention that had had a far greater impact on the plastics industry than the material itself.

The work involved in making synthetics is largely a part of science, but it is usually entangled with attorneys, as this is at stake in the business world and consequently money. In this series, I would like to examine the history of the plastics industry and how we have reached the present.

The world of synthetic materials was inspired by materials found in nature. The material that seems to have provided the starting point for all of this is natural rubber, chemically called polyisoprene, which is a raw material derived from a specific tree. The chemical structures of two different arrangements of atoms in a natural rubber molecule, called isomers, are shown in Figure 1 below.

European explorers who traveled to the Caribbean and Meso-American (Central America) in the 16th and 17th centuries discovered a civilization using this material not only to make solid balls, but also to waterproof textiles. The existence of a rigid ball made of a material of a property we call today's elastomer, or elastomer property, was a shock to the Nordic people who only saw balls made by blowing air into their leather pockets. It was the cis-isomer that made all these products. The trans-isomer will be discussed later.


The world of synthetic materials was inspired by materials found in nature, plastic resin.


A French explorer traveled to Peru in the 1730s to discover a similar substance, but by 1751 the first scientific papers on this new substance were published. However, even at this point, the chemical properties of this material were not well understood. In particular, the effect of temperature on the properties of raw materials has been a barrier to commercial use in Europe.

Unlike the Meso-American climate where temperature fluctuations are relatively small at certain high temperatures, Europe has very large winter and summer temperature changes. At low temperatures in winter the material became hard and brittle, while high temperatures in summer made it very soft and sticky. The most creative product using this material, which appeared in the late 18th century, was an eraser that removed pencil marks from paper. It is for this characteristic that erasers are called rubber.

In 1820, two businessmen from completely different fields also discovered by chance that polyisoprene was dissolved in naphtha and turpentine. Dissolved rubber can be processed into cotton to make waterproof clothing. This worked well as long as the weather didn't get too hot. However, as the temperature increased, the coated fabric became sticky and deformed.

The limitation of polyisoprene utilization due to temperature continued to be a problem from the 1830s to the 40s. In this period, Charles Goodyear stumbled upon two techniques to solve the high-temperature performance problem by randomly conducting one-and-a-half experiments, as did earlier inventors.

Three years later, a vulcanization process, which is better known to improve the low-temperature properties of the material, was discovered. Goodyear had no understanding of the chemistry of the crosslinking process, which dramatically improves the performance of this material.

Even the term'vulcanization' was coined by a British competitor who figured out Goodyear's method, applying for a patent in the UK while Goodyear was filing a patent in the US. It still had to wait several decades before the emergence of a technology that modifies the properties of raw materials by adding plasticizers and fillers (fillers) in rubber.

However, the foundation of the polymer industry was established. Interestingly, Native Americans discovered hundreds of years ago how to stabilize the properties of rubber by smoking raw latex. This was a method of supplying the nitrate and sulfur compounds required for crosslinking of the material to achieve practically the same effect, although the control may be less sophisticated.


The advances made in this age of chemistry plastic resin are largely due to accidental discoveries made through trial and error.


In the 1850s, at a time when the court battle between Goodyear and its rivals in England was intensifying, an English surgeon in Southeast Asia saw the indigenous people of the region extract sap from one of the region's indigenous tree species.

They softened the ingredients by putting them in hot water, and then molded them into a variety of useful objects, such as tool handles and sticks. Chemically, this substance, named gutta-percha (gutta-percha) after the scientific name of the tree that obtained the sap, is the trans isomer of polyisoprene.

This is a good example of the early days of showing the important fact that isomers determine the properties of polymers (a principle widely used in modern polymer chemistry). The cis-isomer is amorphous and very sensitive to temperature changes. Therefore, crosslinking is required to make it a usable material. The trans isomer is a substance capable of crystallization. Thus, although it has the same room temperature glass transition temperature as the cis isomer, it has the properties of a useful solid material at temperatures above room temperature.

Gutta Perca was another material that has been known and used in indigenous civilizations for hundreds of years, but when it got into the hands of more target-oriented Europeans, it was quickly adopted as an insulating material for underwater telegraph wires. In this respect, this material shows not only some similarities with cis isomeric rubbers, but also important differences.

The non-polar structure of the two materials makes them excellent electrical insulators. However, in the case of rubber, even though it has a crosslinked form, it lacks chemical resistance to salt water due to its unique amorphous structure. Gutta Perca has not only desirable electrical properties, but also shows resistance to seawater and many other chemicals. This principle that the presence or absence of crystallinity determines chemical resistance is also well known in the world of polymers, and it has enabled the creation of new applications even in the very early days of the plastics industry.

It also focuses on another very important aspect related to the use of new materials: the development of new chemical raw materials and the invention of processing methods. This material was used for electrical wire coating, which was made possible by a very important invention called an extruder.

In the next installment, we will talk about the technological advances surrounding celluloid and another very important advancement in processing technology in the process.

Source: plastickorea


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