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High-density polyethylene (HDPE) or polyethylene high-density (PEHD) is a polyethylene thermoplastic made from petroleum. It is sometimes called "alkathene" or "polythene" when used for pipes. With a high strength-to-density ratio, HDPE is used in the production of plastic bottles, corrosion-resistant piping, geomembranes, and plastic lumber. HDPE is commonly recycled, and has the number "2" as its resin identification code (formerly known as recycling symbol).
In 2007, the global HDPE market reached a volume of more than 30 million tons.
HDPE is known for its large strength-to-density ratio. The density of HDPE can range from 0.93 to 0.97 g/cm3 or 970 kg/m3. Although the density of HDPE is only marginally higher than that of low-density polyethylene, HDPE has little branching, giving it stronger intermolecular forces and tensile strength than LDPE. The difference in strength exceeds the difference in density, giving HDPE a higher specific strength. It is also harder and more opaque and can withstand somewhat higher temperatures (120 °C/ 248 °F for short periods). High-density polyethylene, unlike polypropylene, cannot withstand normally required autoclaving conditions. The lack of branching is ensured by an appropriate choice of catalyst (e.g., Ziegler-Natta catalysts) and reaction conditions.
The physical properties of HDPE can vary depending on the molding process that is used to manufacture a specific sample; to some degree a determining factor are the international standardized testing methods employed to identify these properties for a specific process. For example, in Rotational Molding, to identify the environmental stress crack resistance of a sample the Notched Constant Tensile Load Test (NCTL) is put to use.
HDPE is resistant to many different solvents and has a wide variety of applications:
- Swimming pool installation
- 3-D printer filament
- Arena Board (puck board)
- Backpacking frames
- Ballistic plates
- Bottle caps
- Chemical-resistant piping
- Coax cable inner insulator
- Food storage containers
- Fuel tanks for vehicles
- Corrosion protection for steel pipelines
- Personal Hovercraft; albeit too heavy for good performance
- Electrical and plumbing boxes
- Far-IR lenses
- Folding chairs and tables
- Geomembrane for hydraulic applications (such as canals and bank reinforcements) and chemical containment
- Geothermal heat transfer piping systems
- Heat-resistant firework mortars
- Last for shoes
- Natural gas distribution pipe systems
- Plastic bags
- Plastic bottles suitable both for recycling (such as milk jugs) or re-use
- Plastic lumber
- Plastic surgery (skeletal and facial reconstruction)
- Root barrier
- Snowboard rails and boxes
- Stone paper
- Storage sheds
- Telecom ducts
- Water pipes for domestic water supply and agricultural processes
- Wood plastic composites (utilizing recycled polymers)
HDPE is also used for cell liners in subtitle D sanitary landfills, wherein large sheets of HDPE are either extrusion or wedge welded to form a homogeneous chemical-resistant barrier, with the intention of preventing the pollution of soil and groundwater by the liquid constituents of solid waste.
HDPE is preferred by the pyrotechnics trade for mortars over steel or PVC tubes, being more durable and safer. HDPE tends to rip or tear in a malfunction instead of shattering and becoming shrapnel like the other materials.
Milk jugs and other hollow goods manufactured through blow molding are the most important application area for HDPE, accounting for one-third of worldwide production, or more than 8 million tons. In addition to being recycled using conventional processes, HDPE can also be processed by recyclebots into filament for 3-D printers via distributed recycling. There is some evidence that this form of recycling is less energy intensive than conventional recycling, which can involve a large embodied energy for transportation.
Above all, China, where beverage bottles made from HDPE were first imported in 2005, is a growing market for rigid HDPE packaging, as a result of its improving standard of living. In India and other highly populated, emerging nations, infrastructure expansion includes the deployment of pipes and cable insulation made from HDPE. The material has benefited from discussions about possible health and environmental problems caused by PVC and Polycarbonate associated Bisphenol A, as well as its advantages over glass, metal, and cardboard.
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