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Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
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Polyacrylamide (abbreviated as PAM) is a polymer with the formula (-CH2CHCONH2-). It has a linear-chain structure. PAM is highly water-absorbent, forming a soft gel when hydrated. In 2008, an estimated 750,000,000 kg were produced, mainly for water treatment and the paper and mineral industries.
Polyacrylamide is a polyolefin. It can be viewed as polyethylene with amide substituents on alternating carbons. Unlike various nylons, polyacrylamide is not a polyamide because the amide groups are not in the polymer backbone. Owing to the presence of the amide (CONH2) groups, alternating carbon atoms in the backbone are stereogenic (colloquially: chiral). For this reason, polyacrylamide exists in atactic, syndiotactic, and isotactic forms, although this aspect is rarely discussed. The polymerization is initiated with radicals and is assumed to be stereorandom.
Copolymers and modified polymers
Linear polyacrylamide is a water-soluble polymer. Other polar solvents include DMSO and various alcohols. Cross-linking can be introduced using N,N-methylenebisacrylamide. Some crosslinked materials are swellable but not soluble, i.e., they are hydrogels
Partial hydrolysis occurs at elevated temperatures in aqueous media, converting some amide substituents to carboxylates. This hydrolysis thus makes the polymer particularly hydrophilic. The polymer produced from N,N-dimethylacrylamide resists hydrolysis.
Copolymers of acrylamide include those derived from acrylic acid
In the 1970s and 1980s, the proportionately largest use of these polymers was in water treatment. The next major application by weight is additives for pulp processing and papermaking. About 30% of polyacrylamide is used in the oil and mineral industries.
One of the largest uses for polyacrylamide is to flocculate solids in a liquid. This process applies to water treatment, and processes like paper making and screen printing. Polyacrylamide can be supplied in a powder or liquid form, with the liquid form being subcategorized as solution and emulsion polymer.
Even though these products are often called 'polyacrylamide', many are actually copolymers of acrylamide and one or more other species, such as an acrylic acid or a salt thereof. These copolymers have modified wetting and swellability.
The ionic forms of polyacrylamide has found an important role in the potable water treatment industry. Trivalent metal salts, like ferric chloride and aluminum chloride, are bridged by the long polymer chains of polyacrylamide. This results in significant enhancement of the flocculation rate. This allows water treatment plants to greatly improve the removal of total organic content (TOC) from raw water.
Enhanced oil recovery
In oil and gas industry Polyacrylamide derivatives especially co-polymers of that have a substantial effect on unconventional production and hydraulic fracturing. Polyacrylamide and its derivatives is in subsurface applications such as Enhanced Oil Recovery. High viscosity aqueous solutions can be generated with low concentrations of polyacrylamide polymers, and these can be injected to improve the economics of conventional waterflooding.
The primary functions of polyacrylamide soil conditioners are to increase soil tilth, aeration, and porosity and reduce compaction, dustiness and water run-off. Secondary functions are to increase plant vigor, color, appearance, rooting depth and emergence of seeds while decreasing water requirements, diseases, erosion and maintenance expenses. FC 2712 is used for this purpose.
The polymer is also used to make Gro-Beast toys, which expand when placed in water, such as the Test Tube Aliens. Similarly, the absorbent properties of one of its copolymers can be utilized as an additive in body-powder.
It was also used in the synthesis of the first Boger fluid.
Molecular biology laboratories
Polyacrylamide is also often used in molecular biology applications as a medium for electrophoresis of proteins and nucleic acids in a technique known as PAGE.
Polyacrylamide was first used in a laboratory setting in the early 1950s. In 1959, the groups of Davis and Ornstein and of Raymond and Weintraub independently published on the use of polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis to separate charged molecules. The technique is widely accepted today, and remains a common protocol in molecular biology labs.
Acrylamide has other uses in molecular biology laboratories, including the use of linear polyacrylamide (LPA) as a carrier, which aids in the precipitation of small amounts of DNA. Many laboratory supply companies sell LPA for this use.
Polyacrylamide is of low toxicity but its precursor acrylamide is a neurotoxin and carcinogen. Thus, concerns naturally center on the possibility that polyacrylamide is contaminated with acrylamide. Considerable effort is made to scavenge traces of acrylamide from the polymer intended for use near food.
Additionally, there are concerns that polyacrylamide may de-polymerise to form acrylamide. Under conditions typical for cooking, polyacrylamide does not polymerise significantly.
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