Plastic is made out of materials that contain important elements such as oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, sulfur and chlorine. It is derived from organic and natural materials such as salt, coal, cellulose, natural gas and crude oil. Out of these, crude oil needs to be processed first as it contains a complex mixture of compounds before it is to be used. Plastic production or manufacturing begins with crude oil undergoing the process of distillation in an oil refinery. The distillation step allows separation of complex groups of crude oil into lighter components called as fractions. Each of the fraction contains a mixture of hydrocarbon (carbon and hydrogen that leads to hydrocarbon) chains whose molecules are different in terms of size and structure.
Polymerisation and polycondensation are the 2 main processes involved in the production of plastic. Both these processes require the use of specific catalysts (a catalyst helps to induce the chemical reaction). Inside a polymerization reactor, the ethylene and propylene are monomers linked together leads to the formation of longer polymer chains. From the long polymer chains, each individual polymer consists of its own size, structure and properties depending on the monomer used.
There are 7 different types of plastic. However, they are grouped together into 2 important polymer families.
- Thermoplastics – These are plastics that become soft on heating and then become hard once it is cooled.
- Thermosets – These are plastics that become soft on heating; however, it does not retain its shape back when cooled.
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