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What Are the Different Types of Polymer Materials?

Jordan Weagly
Jordan Weagly

Polymers encompass a broad category of large molecules created by the bonding of many similar constituent molecules. There are many different kinds of polymer materials, including cellulose, natural or biopolymers, silicones and plastics. Polymer materials are often created or harvested for a specific purpose depending on the type. Many polymer materials are natural, existing in biological entities and in use for many years. Others are synthetic, created through chemical or industrial processes to perform certain functions.

Cellulose is typically found in wood and plants as a natural part of those materials. Once derived, it can be used to create products such as fiber board, paper and cellophane. Polymer wood, for example, is typically created using cellulose and similar materials to achieve a specified strength or consistency. Polymers containing cellulose also can be considered dietary fiber when consumed by humans and may provide an important food for creatures such as termites.

A can of shellac, a natural polymer.
A can of shellac, a natural polymer.

Other natural polymers have been in use for a long time. Examples include shellac, rubber and amber. Shellac is usually derived from the secretions of a specific bug and is often used as a wood finish. Rubber is most often derived from naturally occurring latex and can be further refined to make many products. Amber is generally formed from fossilized tree resin and has been used for many years as decoration, medicine and jewelry.

Plastic polymers may be organic or synthetic based.
Plastic polymers may be organic or synthetic based.

Much like plant- or bug-based polymer materials, nucleic acids and proteins also are considered polymers. More specifically, they are considered biopolymers, because they are produced by organisms. Like other polymer materials, nucleic acids consist of repeated molecular chains. The combinations of these acids typically become the biopolymer proteins used to build most organisms.

Silicones, on the other hand, are considered to be synthetic polymer materials that typically consist of silicon combined with carbon, oxygen or hydrogen to create new materials. These polymers have many uses, depending on the molecular chain configuration, but those uses may include toys, plumbing materials and lubricants. There are many polymer materials based on the combination of silicon with other elements.

Plastic materials are polymers that may be organically based or almost entirely synthetic. Polymer materials considered to be plastic are generally considered important in modern life, and many materials and products would not exist without plastic materials. Examples of these polymers can include polyvinyl chloride (PVC), nylon and polystyrene. Most plastic polymer materials have a high molecular mass, which gives related products rigidity and plasticity.

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    • A can of shellac, a natural polymer.
      By: lukasdesign
      A can of shellac, a natural polymer.
    • Plastic polymers may be organic or synthetic based.
      By: raeva
      Plastic polymers may be organic or synthetic based.