Poly(propylene)


For polypropylene at a glance, click here!

Polypropylene is one of those rather versatile polymers out there. It serves double duty, both as a plastic and as a fiber. As a plastic it's used to make things like dishwasher-safe food containers. It can do this because it doesn't melt below 160oC, or 320oF. Polyethylene, a more common plastic, will anneal at around 100oC, which means that polyethylene dishes will warp in the dishwasher. As a fiber, polypropylene is used to make indoor-outdoor carpeting, the kind that you always find around swimming pools and miniature golf courses. It works well for outdoor carpet because it is easy to make colored polypropylene, and because polypropylene doesn't absorb water, like nylon does.

Structurally, it's a vinyl polymer, and is similar to polyethylene, only that on every other carbon atom in the backbone chain has a methyl group attached to it. Polypropylene can be made from the monomer propylene by Ziegler-Natta polymerization and by metallocene catalysis polymerization.

This is what the monomer propylene really looks like:

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Research is being conducted on using metallocene catalysis polymerization to synthesize polypropylene. Metallocene catalysis polymerization can do some pretty amazing things for polypropylene. Polypropylene can be made with different tacticities. Most polypropylene we use is isotactic. This means that all the methyl groups are on the same side of the chain, like this:

But sometimes we use atactic polypropylene. Atactic means that the methyl groups are placed randomly on both sides of the chain like this:
However, by using special metallocene catalysts, it's believed that we can make polymers that contain blocks of isotactic polypropylene and blocks of atactic polypropylene in the same polymer chain, as is shown in the picture:

This polymer is rubbery, and makes a good elastomer. This is because the isotactic blocks will form crystals by themselves. But because the isotactic blocks are joined to the atactic blocks, the little hard clumps of crystalline isotactic polypropylene are tied together by soft rubbery tethers of atactic polypropylene, as you can see in the picture on the right.

To be honest, atactic polypropylene would be rubbery without help from the isotactic blocks, but it wouldn't be very strong. The hard isotactic blocks hold the rubbery isotactic material together, to give the material more strength. Most kinds of rubber have to be crosslinked to give them strength, but not polypropylene elastomers.

Elastomeric polypropylene, as this copolymer is called, is a kind of thermoplastic elastomer. However, until the research is completed, this type of polypropylene will not be commercially available.

The polypropylene that you can buy off the shelf at the store today has about 50 - 60% crystallinity, but this is too much for it to behave as an elastomer.

Other polymers used as plastics include: Other polymers used as fibers include:
Polyethylene Polyethylene
Polyesters Polyesters
Polystyrene Nylon
Polycarbonate Kevlar and Nomex
PVC Polyacrylonitrile
Nylon Cellulose
Poly(methyl methacrylate) Polyurethanes

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