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Chemical Engineering Department


1 Identification of polymers
Chemical Engineering Department




1) Appearance:

Raw materials are usually transparent or translucent,

whitish or pale brown. Thermoplastics are generally produced as
powders or granules; uncompounded thermosetting resins are in
the form of either high viscous liquids or low melting temperature.
Solids and compounded stocks are generally coloured and opaque.

The materials are in three forms.

 A raw polymer. E.g. PE granules, uncompounded epoxy
 A compounded stock indented for subsequent processing
e.g. MF molding compound, PVC paste.
 A finished article e.g. PET bottle, Bakelite switches.
Dinnerware from MF.

2) Texture:

Feels to touch. E.g. smooth, rough, waxy or brittle. PE and

PTFE give waxy feeling.

3) Odor:

Some materials have pronounced odors e.g. Polysulphides,

natural rubbers etc.

4) Method of fabrication:

Injection molded articles will have gate marks & flash

marks, in such cases the materials may be thermoplastics or rarely
injection grade thermosetting material. It the products have only
mould split lines without any gate marks, the materials may be
thermo set. Sometimes even thermoplastic material like PTFE and
UHMHDPE are compression molded and sintered and insole

2 Identification of polymers
Chemical Engineering Department

articles will not have any gets marks. Cast nylons also do not have
any marks.

5) Rigidity:

When cut with a sharp knife, thermoplastics can be easily

peeled off also thermo sets will become flaky or powdery. But
exception thermoplastic like PMMA & PS are also difficult to pare
which is extremely brittle & easily shattered. (Thermosetting
plastics are generally very rigid.) rigidity is a relative property but
with a little practice the analyst should be able to decide from the
rigidity of a material whether it is a flexible thermoplastic or rigid
thermoplastic or thermosetting plastic flexible thermoplastics
cannot usually be highly extended & don’t have elastic ‘snap back’
compared with rubbers. Rigid thermoplastics can bent too far will
first crack & then break. But exception rigid TP like PMMA &
uncompounded PS which is extremely brittle & easily shattered.
Thermosetting plastics are generally very rigid & an attempt to
bend then usually results in a sharp fracture TP can usually be cut
clearly with a sharp knife. Where as most thermosetting materials
chip when and attempt to cut.

6) Specific gravity (floatation test):

If materials have a specific gravity less than unity hence will

float on water it will be polyolefin, usually polyethylene and
polypropylene. But filled polyolefin will sink in water. When
carrying out this test it is essential to ensure that the surface of
specimen should wet properly by water.
NOTE: If compounding ingredients are present the specific gravity
of the same as that of the polymer.

7) Bending test:

Some plastics will exhibit particular characteristics in the

manner in which they respond to bending. It is important that the
specimens are of approximately the same dimension for getting
better comparative results.

8) Film tear test:

Many plastics are available as thin films and because of the

method of production, may exhibit specific characteristics in the
manner in which they tear. Cut a piece of film about 50 mm * 12
mm. Then make a short cut at one end with a pair of scissors pull
and attempt to tear the film the rest of the way repeat the test in a
direction at right angles.

3 Identification of polymers
Chemical Engineering Department

9) Bounce:

PMMA and PS granules when dropped they bounce. PS give

metallic sound.

10) Co lour :

Most plastics are available in a wide range of colors.

Moldings from phenol formaldehyde invariably have dark colors.
Thus if the unknown samples is in the form of a molding of light
colors, phenol formaldehyde is eliminated. It should be noted,
however, that phenol formaldehyde casings may be light co lour or


1) Brillstein test:

This test provides a simple way of detecting the presence of

halogens. A copper wire 5 cm long with one end embedded in a
cork is cleaned by heating to redness in a colorless Bunsen flame.
The material is touched by hot wire which is then returned to the
flame gives a green flame; (sometime momentary) indicates the
presence of halogen.

NOTE: A compounding ingredient may contain halogens.

2) Pyrolysis test:

A few milligrams of polymeric sample is pyrolysed in a 50

mm * 10 mm ignition tube and the pyrolysed vapor is tested with a
moistened indicator paper. Acid vapors turn blue litmus to red and
alkaline (basic) vapors turn red litmus to blue. Acid vapors may
come from carbohydrate polymers & their derivatives. High acid
vapors often indicate the presence of chlorine. E.g. PVC, PVDC or
chlorinated rubber, alkaline vapors indicate the presence of
nitrogen. Examples of polymers containing nitrogen are
polyamides (nylons), polyurethanes, urea formaldehyde &
melamine formaldehyde. Neutral vapors are evolved from
hydrocarbon polymers, silicones and some polyester.

3) Solubility test:

Solubility tests from a basis for the identification of some

main types of plastic materials. However, in many cases solubility

4 Identification of polymers
Chemical Engineering Department

varies considerably for different samples of the same resin & it is

difficult to interpret the results.


Heating test:

A small piece (0.1 gm) of the material is placed on a clean

spatula and warmed very gently over a small Bunsen flame
without ignition until it begins to fume. Then observed effects on

1) If the material appreciably softens & melt on heating & dry to

reshaped on cooling and further to heat it again soften & melt
repeated a few times then it is thermoplastic material. But if there is
little effect on heating & further heating it will char directly without
melting then it is thermosetting material.
There is the possibility that the materials initially soften &
then hardens on continued heating this indicates an uncured
compounded polymer which crosslink during the heating process.

2) The sample removed from the flame – check the odor of the
fumes & whether they are acid, alkaline or neutral (damp litmus
paper) is ascertained.

 Whether or not the material burns and if so, how easily.

 The nature and colors of flame, a very sooty flame indicates
an aromatic polymer, but may be due to carbon black filler.
 Whether or not the material continuous to burn after
removal from the flame.
 Speed of burning.
 The nature of residue.

5 Identification of polymers