Polyethylene: Break it Down



Polyethylene Via. ZKM | Karlsruhe

Why Polyethylene? Polyethylene (PE) is the most basic form of plastic. It was first introduced into commercial manufacturing during the 1950s. European scientists Karl Ziegler of Germany and Giulio Natta from Italy brought this material to the public after they had been collaborating on the project for some time. However, full recognition wouldn’t be granted to the pair until they were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1963, for their work on polymers. Polyethylene is everywhere. After manufacturers recognized its malleability, polyethylene quickly became the base building block for plastic garbage cans, trash bags, plumbing materials, and water bottles.


Plastic Trash Can

Polyethylene’s base is rooted in Ethylene (H2C=CH2), a hydrocarbon molecule that’s better understood to be an odorless and invisible flammable gas. Ethylene’s natural form can be found in the natural gasses methane and ethane. Polyethylene crystalline structure allows it to form two major types of plastic, high and low density.[1] These forms can be molded into practically any form of the object through a process of heating and cooling. The majority of plastic objects are made from to one of these materials. High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), which has a higher concentration of crystalline is usually found in large industrial products like fuel tanks, corrugated pipe used to transport fluids, and bottle caps. On the other end of the spectrum, Low-Density Polyethylene is often found in consumer products like grocery bags, plastic wrap, and milk cartons.






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[1] Rogers, Tony. “Creative Mechanisms Blog. ” Everything You Need To Know About Polyethylene (PE). Accessed May 01, 2018. https://www.creativemechanisms.com/blog/polyethylene-pe-for-prototypes-3d-printing-and-cnc.