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Polyester resins are unsaturated synthetic resins formed by the reaction of dibasic organic acids and polyhydric alcohols. Polyester resins are used in sheet moulding compound, bulk moulding compound and the toner of laser printers. Wall panels fabricated from polyester resins reinforced with fiberglass — so-called fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) — are typically used in restaurants, kitchens, restrooms and other areas that require washable low-maintenance walls.
Unsaturated polyesters are condensation polymers formed by the reaction of polyols (also known as polyhydric alcohols), organic compounds with multiple alcohol or hydroxy functional groups, with saturated or unsaturated dibasic acids. Typical polyols used are glycols such as ethylene glycol; acids used are phthalic acid and maleic acid. Water, a by-product of esterification reactions, is continuously removed, driving the reaction to completion. The use of unsaturated polyesters and additives such as styrene lowers the viscosity of the resin. The initially liquid resin is converted to a solid by cross-linking chains. This is done by creating free radicals at unsaturated bonds, which propagate in a chain reaction to other unsaturated bonds in adjacent molecules, linking them in the process. The initial free radicals are induced by adding a compound that easily decomposes into free radicals. This compound is usually and incorrectly known as the catalyst . Substances used are generally organic peroxides such as benzoyl peroxide or methyl ethyl ketone peroxide.
Polyester resins are thermosetting and, as with other resins, cure exothermically. The use of excessive catalyst can, therefore, cause charring or even ignition during the curing process. Excessive catalyst may also cause the product to fracture or form a rubbery material.
Lichens have been shown to deteriorate polyester resins, as can be seen in archaeological sites in the Roman city of Baelo Claudia Spain.