Polyethylene is the most commonly used Plastic, used primarily in the packaging in formats such as plastic bags, bottles, and films. Typically, Polyethylene or PE is a mixture of ethylene polymers and is classified on the basis of its branching and density which further influence the properties of the PE. There are a variety of types of PE, used for different purposes, for example, High-density polyethylene (HDPE), Low-density polyethylene (LDPE), Linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) and Cross-linked polyethylene (PEX or XLPE).
The first synthesis of polyethylene came about as an accident in 1898 and was not successfully recreated until 1939. Large scale production of polyethylene for commercial purposes began in 1944 with the development of suitable catalysts that facilitated polymerization at mild pressures and temperatures. Technology has consistently evolved over the years, enabling large scale production and consumption of polyethylene plastics.
Impact of Technology on the Polyethylene Market
The global polyethylene market is expected to reach a value of $190 billion by the year 2022, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR), with the global demand estimated to grow at a CAGR of 3.2 percent in the same period. At a regional level, the polyethylene market in Asia is expected to grow at a CAGR of 4.4 percent, the Middle East market at a rate of 4-5 percent, and LATAM at a rate of 2.3 percent. The concentrated polyethylene market in the U.S. is expected to grow at a CAGR of 2 percent until 2022, while the Europe market is expected to grow at a rate of 1.2 percent.
Technology has an important role in the polyethylene market as it influences the type of plastics and products that are produced, as well as the production quality and manufacturing speed. Advancements in technology over time have increased the application of plastics in other industries and given a significant boost to the packaging industry overall. Technology is further used to develop polyethylene products that are sustainable and easy to recycle.
- Blow Molding
Blow molding technology is used to manufacture plastic products which have hollow parts, including bottles. The process of blow molding involves the melting down of the raw plastic, turning it into a parison or a tube-like case of plastic with a hold through which pressurized air can be passed. Then, the parison is clamped into a mold into which air is blown, the air pressure stretching the plastic to match the shape of the mold. Blow molding can be broadly classified into three types, namely extrusion blow molding, injection blow molding, and injection stretch blow molding.
- Pipe Extrusion
The technology of pipe extrusion is a manufacturing process that caters to high-volume production. Raw plastics in the form of pellets, flakes, granules or powders, are melted and then formed into a steady profile that is then shaped into the required form and hardens upon cooling. Products such as piping, window frames, sheeting, wire insulation, deck railings and fencing are made through the pipe extrusion process, also known as plastics extrusion. Pipe extrusion or plastics extrusion is also used to produce flat sheets since molding technology risks ripping of the plastics sheets.
- Recycling Technology
Despite the versatility and wide applications of plastics such as polyethylene, recycling is a major concern since most polyethylene plastics are not naturally degradable and thus harm the environment if not disposed of properly. Driven by environmental concerns, the technology used for recycling polyethylene has been enhanced significantly. The recycling technology primarily involves breaking down the plastic into simpler components which can then be reused to create other products. Technology is used in identifying, sorting, and separating different types of plastic, melting the plastic, separating the useful components and generating raw material to make new items. Common items produced from recycled plastics include car parts, toys, plastic lumber, clothing fiber, drainage pipes, tables, railroad ties, park benches, and garbage receptacles. However, most of these products cannot be recycled further, based on the technology currently available.
Apart from the established uses of technology in the polyethylene market, more research is underway to find applications of technology in furthering the plastics market, increasing the market use of plastics. Technology can be used to speed up polyethylene production, and use the material to create products of different shapes and sizes. In addition, there is also research underway to identify improved ways of recycling plastics, especially those products that reach the end stage of traditional recycling capabilities.
The polyethylene market has evolved greatly since its first accidental synthesis and technology has played a major role. Technology enables the creation of a wide variety of plastic products available in the market, improving speed and maintaining quality. At the recycling stage, again technology plays a major part. The polyethylene market is facing challenges in the wake of increasing environmental awareness, but the global market is expected to maintain steady growth, with rapid growth in regions of Asia and the Middle East.
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