Recode/Business Insider/YouTube In a lot of ways, polyethylenes are a little like your standard automotive polycarbonate or plastic that can’t stand up to extreme heat.
They’re generally too brittle, too porous, and they absorb too much water.
But for the past couple of decades, they’ve become the new face of insulation.
They are still a bit of a novelty, but their popularity has skyrocketed.
In 2017, the polyethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (PEMA) and ethylene oxide (ETO) polymers became the world’s most widely used insulating materials, according to a new report from the American Chemical Society.
Their popularity has made them the darling of insulation-industry executives, who are hoping to capitalize on the trend by developing products with more robust properties.
“A lot of people are concerned about the durability of the polycarbonates, but they’re not really concerned about toxicity,” said Paul Tarrant, who heads the materials department at GE, the company that makes polyethylens.
“The toxicity concerns are just too big.”
The problem is, PEMAs are also notoriously difficult to manufacture.
They take too long to cool and need special manufacturing processes that aren’t readily available.
In addition, they’re susceptible to corrosion and mold.
But researchers have been able to engineer the polymethylene polypropylene (PMP) and polypropylene polyethylide (PPE) materials to be more resistant to the harsh conditions that polyethylendiamine dodecyl sulfate (PDMS) and other polycarbonated materials encounter.
That’s thanks to a combination of the polymer’s ability to resist water, an increased surface area and a process called thermoelastic melting that’s used to bend the polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) polymer.
The resulting compound can be molded into an even more flexible and strong material.
The result is a “superhydrophobic” compound that’s tough enough to withstand temperatures of up to 700°F (370°C) in the freezer.
“We’ve made polyethyls a lot better over the years, but it’s still not a superhydrophobically conductive material,” Tarrants told Business Insider.
Researchers have found that the thermal resistance of PMP and PPE polymers has doubled in the past two decades, and the same applies to PEPE.
Despite their improved resistance to moisture, both polymers have also been linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other health issues.
Polyethylene is a major ingredient in some of the most common consumer products, including clothes, paper, and plastic containers, and it’s the third most common ingredient in food packaging.
But the research into the toxic properties of these materials has only been ongoing for the last decade.
The most common cause of PMPs toxicity, PMP is linked to tumors, including lung, pancreatic, and bladder cancer.
PPE is associated with pancreatic cancer, but that has been found to be a more rare disease, Tarrantes told Business News Daily.
Other toxicities associated with PMP include respiratory tract infections, cardiovascular events, and kidney damage.
PMP is also linked to skin irritation, allergic reactions, and skin cancer.
The problem with PMPs is that they can also become very brittle, and researchers are now trying to create a polycarbonator that doesn’t break when it’s exposed to the heat of a hot car, Tarsier said.
So far, that’s not an easy task, Targaras said.
Polyethylene’s nanostructures, combined with the high-temperature treatment process, make the material a good candidate for thermal-resistant materials.
It also seems to be able to resist chemical degradation.
But it’s not a perfect polycarbon, Tarlant said.
The compound has the ability to break down under high heat.
It can also undergo “thermal embrittlement,” in which it loses its structure.
One thing that’s still unclear about the properties of PMPE and PEPEs is how they work at room temperature.
The researchers found that their polymer has a higher melting point at room temperatures, but when exposed to a high-heat environment, the properties aren’t as good.
Tarrant explained that the researchers used a combination to make their compounds.
They heated the polymers with a chemical called polyimide that’s a catalyst for thermal energy production, and then they melted them at low temperatures.
They used a process known as thermo-elastic (TE) to melt the material at room-temperatures.
That created a mixture of the material with an insulating effect and an impregnating effect. Thermo-Eli