Polyethylene is widely used in a variety of applications including packaging, medical, consumer goods, and insulation. It is a thermoplastic processed at a temperature ranging from 150 to 200 0C. Like all thermoplastics, polyethylene begins to flow above its melting point and loses its useful mechanical properties which limits its operation at high temperatures. It is cross-linked so as to change its nature from thermoplastic to thermoset and form a more temperature-resistant plastic with improved mechanical strength. Important forms of polyethylene include low-density polyethylene (LDPE), polyolefinic elastomer (POE), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA), and linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE). Cross-linking of polyethylene can be carried out through either physical or chemical means. In the chemical process, free radicals are generated via chemical reactions while in the physical one, they are generated through irradiation. In cross-linked polyethylene, the chains merge through covalent bonds to form a three-dimensional cross-linked insoluble and infusible product.
Cross-linking of polyethylene results in a polymer that exhibits high molecular weight which improves the impact strength, abrasion resistance, and environmental stress cracking resistance (ESCR) of the polymer without significantly altering its tensile strength and density. Cross-linked polyethylene is generally available in pipe, tubing, wire, and cable forms. Pipes and tubings are majorly obtained from cross-linking HDPE, while wires and cables are acquired from cross-linking LDPE. A common application of cross-linked polyethylene is plumbing. The polymer is rapidly replacing copper pipes and tubes as it is more flexible, comparatively much cheaper, resists corrosion, and exhibits a wider useful temperature range. Another important application of the polymer is in mining. Due to the ease with which cross-linked polyethylene piping can be mounted, the cost and time required for the installation, repair, and maintenance of piping in mines are reduced considerably. Electrical tubing made from cross-linked polyethylene is used to protect copper wires as the polymer is inherently resistant to heat, weather, and moisture in addition to being insulating. Cross-linked polyethylene is also employed in chemical storage tanks due to its high strength and heat & chemical resistance. Its usage in wear-resistant joints is also being investigated currently. Other applications of the polymer include dental materials, automotive ducts & housings, kayaks, and canoes.
North America is one of the leading consumers of cross-linked polyethylene as the polymer is substituting other materials in plumbing applications in residential and industrial establishments. Demand for the polymer stems mainly from the well-developed sewerage and water transmission systems in this region. Asia Pacific is another important region for the cross-linked polymer market. China and India are rapidly modernizing their public infrastructure including their water distribution and sewerage systems. This, in turn, is projected to fuel the demand for cross-linked polyethylene in this region. Demand for cross-linked polythene is also expected to rise in the mining and chemical manufacturing industries. The market in Europe is anticipated to witness moderate growth in the next few years due to the region’s limited need to spend on infrastructure development. In many countries in Africa, Asia, and South America, inferior and low-grade materials are used for plumbing and water distribution systems, creating a huge potential for increased consumption of cross-linked polyethylene in these regions.
Key players in this market include ExxonMobil Chemical Company, Inc., LyondellBasell Industries, 3H Vinacom Co., Ltd, Hanwha Chemicals, Arkema Group, AkzoNobel N.V., Falcone Specialities AG, Borealis AG, and PolyOne Corporation.
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