Polymer expert writes text about better, inexpensive ways to create plastic

05/19/05

The complex and intricate world of plastics comes alive through the eyes of Marino Xanthos, PhD, a professor in the department of chemical engineering at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Xanthos has spent a lifetime studying plastics--known in his world as polymers.

The newest book edited and co-authored by Xanthos Functional Fillers for Plastics (Wiley VCH) details not only the basics of the composition of plastics and how to alter, and then apply them, but how to fill them and modify them.

Although this is obviously a text for scientists, technologists and engineers, the process of this comprehensive and up-to-date overview of the major mineral and organic fillers for plastics may interest anyone fascinated by the physical universe.

Simply put, almost anything can be used to fill plastics and this book based on the way the material is classified, makes that information more accessible than ever before.

There are chapters about glass as a filler, mica, too, and the emerging market of dirt--in the form of the minutest properties of clay called "nanoclay."

Information also is available about using carbon nanotubes and nanofibers as plastic fillers as well as natural fibers as fillers, too. More fillers mentioned are talc, kaolin, calcium carbonate –better known among non-chemists as limestone.

The text details how inexpensive natural fillers from mineral resources (clays, mica or talc) can be upgraded by coating them with chemicals to make them more compatible with different types of polymers.

Such natural mineral fillers are mined at locations throughout the world where grinding, purification and coating plants are available. The products are then transported elsewhere. Synthetic fillers, such as fiberglass, are produced by different companies and then coated on site with protective chemicals to prevent abrasion and increase compatibility.

Bioactive fillers number among the most active fillers today. Such fillers naturally occur in salts and glasses which are surface reactive inorganic compounds. When such compounds are combined with collagen, they can bond with human bones and teeth.

"Bioactive fillers can accelerate bone growth and repair bone defects in dental, craniofacial and orthopedic applications," added Xanthos. Among those compounds we use for this purpose is calcium phosphate which has structural similarity to the mineral phase of the bone. "You cannot easily recognize a polymer (or plastic) that contains fillers," said Xanthos. "But consumers use them daily. For example, look under your car hood. Fillers exist near almost any part of your engine. That's because filled plastics in some cases are better to use than metals. Near a car engine, for example, fillers can increase heat stability and retain certain properties of plastic parts while remaining at elevated temperatures." Working chemists and engineers view this text as an excellent consumer's guide. Listed information includes not only data about the chemical properties of the filler--when applicable its density, moisture and thermal properties--but also practical information such as suppliers, costs and even availability. There's also significant research about identifying new markets and applications for fillers.

Xanthos wrote six of the chapters and called upon international experts to supply the rest of the information.

Xanthos directed the Polymer Engineering Center at NJIT until 2003. Xanthos studied chemical engineering at the University of Toronto, where he received his doctorate in 1974. He has been Manager of Research and Development and Technical services at Marietta Resources International Ltd. and taught at the Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken.

Since 1988, Xanthos has been director of research at the Polymer Processing Institute (PPI), an independent non-profit research organization located at NJIT. Xanthos' interests focus on polymer blends, composites, and foams. He is involved with polymer modification and reactive processing, plastics recycling and life-cycle assessment. Structure-property relationships and environmental considerations in polymer processing hold his attention, too.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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