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Microcellular plastic foam is plastic that has been specially foamed so as to created micro-pores or cells. The common definition includes foams with pore size on the order of 10 micrometers in diameter (from 0.1 to 100 micrometers typically.) Since the cells are so small, to the casual observer this foam retains the appearance of a solid plastic. Microcellular foams have been made in the density range of 5 to 99% of the base material. Ordinary foam has cell diameters of 100 to 500 micrometers and density of only 0.3 to 50% of virgin material. Images of these plastics can also be found here: (source: http://microcel.me.washington.edu)
Most microcellular plastics are created by the Solid-State Foaming Process which saturates a thermoplastic with an inert gas at very high pressures. The gas dissolves in plastic, which absorbs the gas like a sponge. Removing the plastic from the high pressure environment creates a thermodynamic instability. Heating the polymer above the effective glass transition temperature (of the polymer/gas mixture) then causes the plastic to foam, creating a very uniform structure of small bubbles.
The very small structure, and uniform makeup of the plastic yield superior mechanical properties compared to conventional foams. There are also environmental benefits to foaming using inert gases. Most conventional foams are produced using chemicals that could be bad for the environment.
Commercialization of the Solid-State process has begun by a company named Microgreen Polymers.
Recent developments at the University of Washington have produced Nanocellular foams. These foams are characterized by cell sizes in the 20-100 nanometer range.
Microcellular plastics are also currently used in industry to produce injection molded and extruded thermoplastics under a tradename MuCell.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Microcellular_plastic". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|