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Synthetic materials that will shape the future

Synthetic materials have been part of our lives for a considerable time now. Since the introduction of nylon in the 1940s, we have used synthetic materials in almost every aspect of our lives.

We have synthetic materials everywhere, from clothing and medicine to sportswear and tactical gear. So what are synthetic materials?

Materials produced by humans in laboratories or industries using chemical processes that do not commonly occur in nature are called synthetic materials.

In the infographic above from HydroGraph, we take a look at synthetic materials that have the potential to change the future.

Five synthetic materials with the power to change the world

Chemists have discovered new catalysts and developed new synthetic routes to create materials with truly specific applications.

Today, synthetic materials have gone beyond everyday household items to shape several major industries. Here are five types that will play a defining role in the future:

1. Bioplastics

As we are often reminded, plastics do not degrade and are visible sources of environmental pollution. To complicate matters further, the building blocks of these materials, which we call monomers, are historically derived from crude oil, a non-renewable resource.

But that is changing. Bioplastics are plastics that: come from a renewable resource, are biodegradable, or are both. Bioplastics represent an evolution in the plastics market due to their benefits as new applications and technologies are developed.

2. Plastic Electronics

Initially discovered at the end of the 1970s, plastic electronics represents a rapidly expanding technology that brings us a myriad of products integrating flexible and transparent electronic circuits.

Rather than relying on conventional, rigid and fragile silicon chips to process information, plastic technology is based on new organic materials on which the coding can be printed.

Today’s state-of-the-art microchip factories are about the size of three football fields and require specially designed facilities. In contrast, plastic electronic circuits have the potential to be created in small laboratories.

3. Self-Healing Polymers

Self-healing is a well-known phenomenon in nature: a broken bone fuses together after a while, and if the skin is damaged, the wound stops bleeding and heals again.

This concept can be imitated to create polymer materials capable of regenerating themselves after undergoing degradation or wear.

Inspired by biological systems, new materials can now heal in response to traditionally irreversible damage. Current research in this area shows how different self-healing mechanisms can be adapted to produce even more versatile materials.

4. Smart and responsive polymers

Gels and synthetic rubbers can easily adjust their shape in response to changes in their environment, such as temperature or acidity.

It is incredibly useful in design smart materials for sensors, drug delivery devices and many other applications.

Mechanophores, for example, are molecular units that can change the properties of a polymer when subjected to mechanical forces. These could have a number of industrial applications, particularly through the incorporation of self-healing technology.

5. Nanocomposites and nanomaterials

Nanomaterials are synthetic composites with a length of less than 100 nm. They are grouped together in several rows to produce an incredibly light and flexible yet durable synthetic material.

Due to these properties, nanomaterials have several key applications in aviation and space, chemicals and aeronautics, as well as in products related to optics, solar hydrogen, fuel cells, batteries, sensors and power generation.

Moreover, since one of the most pressing challenges of our time is to find alternative and environmentally friendly sources of energy, nanomaterials are a crucial element in applications such as solar cells, paints and other green chemistry applications.

The strength of graphene nanomaterials

Graphene has emerged as one of the most promising nanomaterials due to its unique combination of outstanding properties.

This disruptive technology could open up new markets and even replace existing technologies or materials. No other material has the superlative breadth of graphene, making it ideal for countless applications.

From medicine, electronics and defense to desalination, restoration of works of art and alternative fuels, the impact of research on graphene is considerable.

Substantial research and production of nanomaterials like graphene is already underway. HydroGraph, through its patented HydroGraph process, has been able to create a highly efficient, low impact process to mass produce graphene powder.

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