Synthetic polymers

A short section of a polyethene molecule

Synthetic polymers are made by taking a large number of small molecules and joining them together to make long chains.

The small molecules are known as monomers.

The long chains are known as polymers.

Here we look at two processes by which synthetic polymers are made: condensation and addition polymerisation

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​Addition Polymerisation

Condensation Polymerisation 

​Name of Monomer ​Name of polymer  ​Common name of polymer ​Properties and uses
ethene
polyethene​ polythene​(HDPE)&(LDPE) the most common type of plastic​
chloroethene​polychloroethene​PVC glue​water pipes and electrical cable insulation​
propene
polypropene​polypropylene ​crates and ropes​
phenylethene 
polyphenylethene​polystyrene ​packing, insulation, plastic cups​

Advantages of using polymers

  • ​water resistant, can be used for bottles and buckets
  • poor conductors of heat and electricity - used as insulators
  • cheap and cost effective
  • many are thermoplastic and can be moulded easily

Disadvantages of using polymers

  • plastic pollution. non bio degradability leads to serious pollution
  • many are sensitive to ultra violet radiation and degrade in sunlight
  • can be flammable and toxic when burned
  • mostly made from fossil fuels
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