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A History of Plastics from Charles the First to Charles the Third


A History of Plastics from Charles the First to Charles the Third Geoff Pritchard Worcester U3A PART ONE: Natural Plastics (resins) Alexander Parkes PART TWO: MAN ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: A History of Plastics from Charles the First to Charles the Third

A History of Plastics from Charles the First
to Charles the Third
  • Geoff Pritchard

Worcester U3A
Raw materials for plastics
Before 1900 plants
1880-1945 coal milk plants
In modern times salt oil and natural
21st Century castor beans, palm oil, sugar,
cotton, corn, tapioca, algae, biomass
Note the rise in the price of sugar raised the
UN FAO Food Price Index to 234 in June 2011,
near to its record level of 239

Castor oil beans
make starting materials for
carbon-neutral nylons for vehicle parts. (CO2
is absorbed during bean growth)
Sir Robert Hooke, 1635--1703
Not popular. No portraits survive. Disfigured by
smallpox as a child orphan father committed
suicide when he was 13 difficult temperament,
enemies (such as Isaac Newton) prevented
recognition as an English Leonardo da Vinci.
Inventor of the iris diaphragm in cameras, the
universal joint in vehicles, the balance wheel in
watches, etc. First to use the word 'cell' in
the context of biology Author of the first book
on microscopy
Surveyor of the City of London after the Great
Fire. Architect, astronomer deputy to Sir
Christopher Wren. Known today for Hookes Law
and the concept of extrusion.
PART ONE Natural Plastics (resins)
Flowers, foliage and fruit of the Isonandra
Gutta Percha Tree
  • A resin is obtained by
  • evaporating and coagulating the milk
  • from the gutta percha tree trunk. It
  • can be shaped in boiling water.

Gutta percha---a natural plastic or resin
(Tradescantia was named after his dad)
  • John Tradescant (1608-62) the younger (head
    gardener to Queen Henrietta Maria at Greenwich,
    1638-42) obtained Mazer wood, via a merchant,
    from Singapore (1656).
  • Used for knife handles (1843), medical devices,
    jewellery to insulate undersea cables (1847 till
  • First gutta golf ball in 1840s by Rev. Dr.
  • Paterson. (Previously, wood or leather stuffed
    with feathers). Much cheaper, making golf more
  • 1845 Lagrénée returned to France with some gutta
    percha which he named gum plastic.

Synthetic gutta percha developed at Dunlop for
golf ball covers, 1960-2.
Stirrer shaft
One litre Pyrex reaction vessel
Gutta percha is trans 1, 4 polyisoprene whereas
natural rubber is cis 1, 4 polyisoprene
MARCH 29,1851
From Notes and Queries
In 1839 a German apothecary, Eduard Simon,
distilled an oil from the resin of the Sweetgum
tree, and named it "styrol". Over a few days it
formed a jelly, which he called styrol oxide.
It was actually poor quality polystyrene and not
an oxide. Its not recognised as the first
fully man-made plastic usable polystyrene only
came in 1933!
Trunk of rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis, with
cup for collecting milk
The rubber is coagulated, dried and
over-cooked with sulphur to form ebonite for
gramophone records, bowls, castors, (smoking)
PLASTICS FROM COWS! Casein plastics (1899) (The
most beautiful of all plastics)
Inventors Krisch Spitteler (Germany)
Artificial horn
A protein is separated from milk by the enzyme
rennin. It is moulded to shape under heat and
pressure, and hardened by soaking in formalin
(health hazard!). Casein products are machined
from sheet, rod, or tube. Now confined mostly to
buttons in New Zealand
Alexander Parkes
1813 - 1890
Manager of the metal casting department at
Elkington, Mason Co. in Birmingham.
1846 Parkes patented a mixture of natural rubber
with gutta percha. The worlds first blended and
toughened plastic?
1856 The worlds first semi-synthetic plastic
Invented in Birmingham
Parkes took out over 80 patents and made the
worlds first artificial plastic, cellulose
nitrate. He called it Parkesine, shown at the
International Exhibition in London in
1862. Awarded a medal, made no profit.
The American printer / inventor John Wesley Hyatt
was asked by Phelan Collander (manufacturers of
billiard balls) to find a substitute for ivory
(elephants were scarce). .
Hyatt made cellulose nitrate, called it
Celluloid. His stuffing machine (1872) was a
forerunner of modern injection moulding machines
Four stages of celluloid production and
moulding (Celluloid Manufacturing Co., Albany,
Ethanol, dye
Cotton Nitric Acid, Sulphuric Acid
Heat, pressure, reaction vessel
Clean-up, ethanol removal
Moulded article
Pure Celluloid with added camphor to adjust
Stuffing machine (1872)
19th Century Celluloid Uses
Dental plates (1871) knife handles toys
washable collars and cuffs billiard balls,
buttons, brooches, dolls, folding toothpicks,
combs, paperweights, thimbles, shoe-horns, table
tennis balls, etc.
Celluloid strips were coated with a
photosensitive gelatin emulsion and used in early
motion pictures (1880s) ---big fire problem!
Later replaced by cellulose acetate or polyester
Celluloid Figurines
Phenol Formaldehyde ? P-F resin water
Dr Leo Baekeland (Belgian) made P-F resins
Founded General Bakelite Co. in 1910 in USA
Bayer (Germany) and Luft (Austria) had
already made similar resins, but failed to
commercialise them.
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BAKELITE Ltd was formed in 1927 to exploit
Baekelands patents in the UK by merging Damard
Lacquer Co., Baekeland Inc., Mouldensite Ltd (a
leading moulding company) and Redmanol Ltd (the
UK arm of an American sales company)
PVC was discovered in 1912 by Fritz Klatte, a
German chemist.
  • Klatte reacted acetylene with hydrochloric acid
    to produce vinyl chloride. Thinking he'd failed,
    he put it on a shelf, where it went solid (formed
    PVC). He
  • patented it in Germany. His company never did
    anything with it.

Ten years later, the patent expired. 1926, Waldo
Semon, American chemist with B.F.Goodrich,
discovered PVC, without knowledge of Klatte's
discovery. He showed it to his boss, who
patented it in America. They thought it would
make good shower curtains. The waterproof
material soon found more creative uses, and
Goodrich made a fortune. Klatte never saw a
PVC wire and cable jacketing has much better
durability than natural rubber. Less re-wiring!
Its also used for pipe, buildings, shoes, etc,
Pay with plastic
PVC Extrusions ---continuous profiles such as
gutters, hose, sheet, curtain rails, conveyer
belts for mining, window frames.
PVC window frames were made on a large-scale
in the early 1970s in Germany
Recorded music
1880s Shellac used for records by Emil Berliner.
First to use discs (rather than phonograph
cylinders) despite earlier work by Edison, Bell
and Cros. Even with cotton reinforcement it was
brittle, but it could reproduce fine detail.
Other companies used ebonite.
  • 78 rpm was standard by late 1920s.
  • PVC (vinyl). Known as
  • unbreakable because shellac resin cracked so

Abbas song The Visitors was the first
commercial CD, in 1982. Made of polycarbonate.
Others say Billy Joels 52nd St, made in Japan
or Beethovens 9th, others say Born in the
USA 1982 is probably right.
Polythene (Polyethylene)
  • invented by Fawcett and Gibson (ICI) 1933,
    production 1 Sept 1939
  • first use -- military radar (WW2)
  • 6 different types later invented

Postwar shopping bags, wire insulation,
packaging, (failed) washing-up bowls
Later stiffer type made, used for Fairy Liquid
bottles swing-top bins pipes
Dyneema polyethylene has extra long molecules
Fishing line
21st Century a rmoured vehicles
Rapid development
  • Unsaturated polyesters (fibre glass boats)
    1940s and 1950s
  • Epoxy resins (Araldite etc) 1939
  • Nylons saturated polyester (polyester-cotton
    shirts) 1930s (first textiles, then plastics)

William H Carothers
Started as a junior accountant, then chemistry
student, then head of college dept., Worked at
Invented Neoprene rubber, Polyester textiles,
(1930s) (Dacron etc) Invented nylon,
Committed suicide at age 41.
Nylon is used for gears, low voltage switchgear
(top left) fishing lines, under-bonnet car
parts, toothbrushes but was invented as a
Semi-finished nylon products Bottom left)
Polypropylene (invented 1954) is versatile
  • Stackable chairs

Drinking water bottles (not huge ones)
Vehicle parts
Garden membranes for weed control
Polycarbonate (1953) is tough and can be
transparent discovered by Daniel Fox at GE
(Lexan) and by Hermann Schnell at Bayer
(Makrolon) (both in 1953)
Uses riot shields, visors, greenhouses,
conservatories, lenses, CDs, DVDs, headlamp
30 of all US spectacle lenses are made of
polycarbonate, because of lawsuits about eye
injuries from lenses breaking .

Polycarbonate for long riot shields and jet
fighter cockpit canopies
American football helmet
Australian-designed polycarbonate beer glass
In 2009, the UK Home Office says that glass beer
mugs and bottles cost the NHS and police 100
million a year through 87,000 reported injuries
Basic injection moulding machine for
making thermoplastic articles (from combs to
chairs) A screw was first used instead of a ram
in 1946.
Close-up of a mould for making paper clips
  • Vehicles
  • Packaging
  • Medical
  • Aircraft
  • Electronic
  • Solar energy

Some mouldings for road transport
Air distributor
Air ducts
Electric Bicycle
Windscreen washer tank
Elbows, ducts and connectors
Toyota Prius (August 2009) uses plastics from
plants e.g. seat cushion foam, cowl side trim,
inner and outer scuff plates. Special Prius A
for Japan uses air conditioning outlet made from
sugar. Other raw materials polylactic acid from
starch, polyester, kenaf fibre, and polyols from
castor oil.
Polycarbonate glazing is 50 lighter than glass
and has high impact resistance.
Suppliers claim a weight reduction of more than
20kg (50) is possible when replacing all glass
windows (except the windshield) in a minivan.
Vehicle manufacturers can now try 3D-shaped
windows and new opening mechanisms.
Polycarbonate can now be made from carbon dioxide
(and propylene oxide) instead of the hazardous
use of phosgene reacted with bisphenol A. The
last-named chemical is under suspicion as a
health hazard to foetuses and children
Lithium ion batteries
  • A separator is a plastic film (often specially
    modified polypropylene, or a polyimide)
    preventing the electrodes from touching, but
    letting lithium ions pass between them to allow
    the charge and discharge of the battery.
  • A hybrid car has between 50 and 70
  • batteries.
  • plug-in hybrids--
  • 80 to 200
  • fully electric cars
  • at least 150.

This 15 metre long, Dutch-made battery-powered
bus with gull-wing doors is made from a
carbon fibre reinforced plastic chassis, glass
reinforced polypropylene bodywork, and
polycarbonate windows.
Food packaging prolongs food life, saves more
than 25 food from the waste bin. Plastic
bottles save on fuel, dont break, and can be
recycled. Plastic packaging uses only 2 of all
oil produced.
Collapsible water bottle
Packaging is hightech (multi-layered, can
incorporate anti-piracy watermarks for designer
label goods, exclude oxygen, retain moisture,
stop meat discoloration, control CO2 access)
This food packaging by Linpac won a European
prize in 2009 for products containing over 50
recycled plastics
  • Tubing IV accessories blood bags
  • Syringes catheters
  • Implants
  • Temporary heart
  • Radiation shielding (instead of lead)
  • blood glucose meters pumps drug packaging

Papworth. 900 of these worldwide
Note plastic components can incorporate antimicro
bial additives (biocides) to combat infection
Only a few reinforced plastics parts shown here
Rear fuselage
Main-wing box
Engine cowlings
Cabin floor
Galleys and lavatories
Centre wing box
Aileron (fibreglass)
50 reinforced plastic (CFRP) so 20 less fuel
Boeing 787 Dreamliner
(Based on Flight International drawing)
Clever Stuff
  • Space suits Moon rover vehicles
  • Electrically conducting plastics
  • Electronic paper
  • Smart materials change colour in response to
    pressure, temperature, light, remember their
    previous shape and go back to it
  • blood clot warning devices for air travellers
  • Heal any scratches by themselves

(An additive is used--short polymer molecules
containing zinc or lanthanum ions it melts and
repairs the scratch in 1 minute under UV light,
provided the sample is thin enough)
When Charles 3 is king cheap solar energy?
Edited quotes from researchers at Sheffield
University, July 2011
Ultra-cheap solar energy panels will one day be
made on a large scale. Rather than using complex
and expensive fabrication methods to create a
specific semiconductor nanostructure, high-volume
printing will produce nano-scale (60nm) polymer
films of solar cells to make solar panels."
"In 2 hours, enough energy from sunlight falls
on the Earth to satisfy the energy needs of its
population for a whole year, but we need cheap
and efficient solar cells that can cover huge
areas to move us into a new age of renewable
Most plastics can be recycled (even PVC!) but
to be economic, different types should not be
mixed up
Conversion to chemicals or fuel oil can be more
economic than simply re-shaping
Recycling bottles
  • Detergent, other cleaning fluids, shampoos,
  • pills, soft drinks --REMOVE LIDS FIRST

Recycling one plastic bottle can save enough
energy to light a 60W bulb for 6 hours
This boat was made from 16,000 recycled PET
bottles, to sail from San Francisco to Sydney.
Recycled polyethylene walkway in Bracknell. The
Domesday Book copse is low-lying and prone to
flooding so a wooden structure would have
quickly rotted
Courtesy of Tech Wood
This building is made of 70 waste sawdust and
30 resin (such as polyethylene)
A UK Environment Agency document, Life Cycle
Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags, asserts
that polythene bags have less impact on the
environment than many supposedly green
alternatives the so-called single use plastic
bag is around 200 times less damaging than
multi-use cotton bags. Feb 2011
Some biodegradable bags generate methane
rapidly during landfill
The UK Environment Agency (EA) has temporarily
withdrawn its report while a legal query is
resolved. The report shows that re-use of bags
rather than the material of which they are made
per se is the critical factor in reducing
environmental impact. A cotton bag would have to
be used at least 131 times to ensure that it has
a lower global warming potential than a
conventional single use lightweight HDPE
carrier bag that is not reused. Paper and
compostable bioplastic bags also show higher
global warming potential than the conventional
plastic bag. US students have identified
polyurethane-eating organisms from the Amazon
The oceans have big islands of plastic
rubbish delivered to a central point by
converging ocean currents
According to the Germans, 80 of all marine
waste reaches the sea from the land because of
poor waste management. Germany already recovers
97 of its plastic waste.
The Pacific one was once said to be 14 times the
size of Holland, or twice that of Texas
Other oceanographers disagree they say if you
just measure the area of the plastic, rather
than the area affected by merging currents, it is
a small fraction of the state of Texas, say 1 .
A 22 year study has found no increase in size
over that time.
Whim Architecture has proposed making an island
the size of Hawaii from Pacific ocean plastic
waste, to create a floating home for 500,000
people, powered by solar energy and wave motion.
Electrolux has launched a Vac from the sea
initiative to suck waste out of the ocean to use
it to make sustainable vacuum cleaners.
2 of the first 5 vacuum cleaners!!
The European Union offers fishermen cash for
catching plastic rubbish instead of fish!
Recycled plastic reefs protect Dubai coast
from erosion
What does scampi have in its stomach? Four
fifths of them have plastic
----Researchers from London and Aberdeen
Universities wrote in the Marine Pollution
Bulletin, 2011--
The results of our study clearly show that
scampi in the Clyde (estuary) are consuming
plastics and that one of the sources of this
plastic is that used by the scampi fishery
itself. (that is, the nets!)
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