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Material Research: Polymers

Guide explaining the different types of materials and manufacturers.

What Are Traditional Polymers?

Polymers are used in a range of materials, including common household goods, clothing, toys, construction materials, insulation, and numerous other products. Chemically speaking, they are compounds with molecules bonded together in long, repeating chains. They are often man-made, using petroleum derived, non-renewable resources. Common petrobased polymers include:

  • Polypropylene (PP): Carpet, upholstery
  • ​Polyethylene low density (LDPE): Grocery bags
  • ​Polyethylene high density (HDPE): Detergent bottles, toys
  • ​Poly(vinyl chloride) (PVC): Piping, decking
  • ​Polystyrene (PS): Toys, foam
  • ​Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, Teflon): Non-stick pans, electrical insulation
  • ​Poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA, Lucite, Plexiglas): Face shields, skylights
  • Poly(vinyl acetate) (PVAc): Paints, adhesives
  • Polychloroprene (Neoprene): Wet suits

Biobased Polymers

Biobased polymers can be direct or "drop in" replacements for petroleum-derived polymers and offer near-identical properties, or they can offer entirely novel characteristics. The importance of reducing dependency on fossil fuels for environmental reasons has brought about a surge in the production of these products. Some polymers that may include biologic feedstock are TPU, PE, and PLA.

Common uses include:

  • Packaging
  • Cutlery
  • Toys (LEGO)
  • Shoes
  • Textiles
  • Medical devices

Information Sources

Bio-Based Polymers - Bio-based polymers, also called bio-based resins, are obtained from renewable resources (algae, bacteria, microorganisms, plants, etc.). 

13 Bioplastic Innovations That Might Save the Environment - Bioplastic could be the solution to the growing accumulation of hydrocarbon-derived plastics. 

Plastics: Differences in Polymer Structures - This site explains thermoplastic, elastomer, and thermoset plastics.

Decision Support System - This decision system is for designing with polymer materials.

Polymer Properties Database - Includes general encyclopedic information, manufacturers, and industry news.

Polymers vs. Plastic - Hint: plastics are a type of polymer.


In the C&M Library: clockwise from top left: Bioresin Tiles;
Water Absorbing Beads; Recycled Rubber Soles; Scented
Polymers; Recycled Rubber & Vinyl Flooring
College for Creative Studies website