Temperature variations can have a significant impact on materials, especially plastics. We've already discussed heat- and flame-resistant plastics in a previous article, but what about the cold?
Low temperatures have a direct effect on a plastic’s structure, causing molecular chains to shrink. In some cases, this can have a significant impact on the mechanical properties of some plastics. In this article, we’ll present 5 plastics that can easily withstand frigid conditions, with some capable of tolerating cryogenic temperatures.
The impact of sub-zero digits on plastics
Like high temperatures, the cold can quickly deteriorate the properties of plastics, causing a significant decrease in impact resistance, among others. The cold also causes a temporary loss of elasticity in polymers; they become "harder," yet more brittle, making them more likely to crack or break under the force of an impact.
Cold resistance is a desirable property for many applications, including insulation, bearing parts, bushings and mechanical components. To learn more about plastic bushings click here
High-performance UHMW (TIVAR 88)
Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene is a high-density material prized for its resistance to friction and its very low dynamic coefficient of friction. Some high-performance UHMWs, such as TIVAR 88, contain plastic additives that improve the basic performance of their resin.
Chosen for the most demanding applications, this blue plastic easily tolerates cold temperatures and is often used to produce abrasion-resistant liners. It’s also a popular material for snowplow blades, as it not only minimizes damage during snow removal but also reduces noise.
TIVAR 88 can be used at temperatures as low as -200 °C (-328 °F) without losing its properties.
ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene)
Combining three different monomers, ABS is a thermoplastic with very good impact resistance. Acrylonitrile gives it its chemical resistance, butadiene its strength and impact resistance and styrene makes it smooth and rigid.
In terms of cold resistance, ABS performs well in temperatures as low as -20 °C (-4 °F). To learn more about this plastic, see our article: What is ABS?
Polytetrafluoroethylene is an advanced fluoropolymer used for extreme applications. It's known for its impressive chemical and thermal resistance. PTFE is used in the medical and pharmaceutical sectors as well as in the food industry. Generally used in its virgin form, it's also available with a fibreglass additive that gives it interesting mechanical properties.
PTFE can be used at temperatures as low as -240 °C (-400 °F). To learn more about PTFE, see our article: 4 Myths about Teflon.
Polyetheretherketone, also known as PEEK, is an advanced thermoplastic primarily used for applications requiring superior mechanical properties. It’s hard and very rigid with high tensile strength. It’s also resistant to high temperatures, chemicals and abrasion.
Because PEEK has excellent thermal resistance, it can be used at high temperatures and those as low as -50 °C (-58 °F).
Popular in the electronics, aviation and chemical industries, polyetherimide is a high-performance polymer used in the manufacture of high-performance parts requiring high precision machining. For example, Duratron U1000 is a reinforced PEI ideal for applications requiring dielectric properties. It’s resistant to hydrolysis, highly resistant to acid solutions and can be subjected to repeated steam sterilization cycles.
PEI can be used at temperatures as low as -50 °C (-58 °F).
In addition to the 5 plastics discussed in this article, there's also a wide range of high-performance plastics specially designed for extreme environments available on the market. Some plastics have been specifically developed for use in highly corrosive environments where chemical and thermal stresses are significant. Since there are many possible uses for polymers and various plastic additives, it’s important to bear in mind the constraints to which the material will be exposed in order to make the right choice.
Plastics built for pressure:
5 Heat-Resistant Plastics
5 Flame-Resistant Plastics
5 Acid-Resistant Plastics