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Polymers are a big component of most of our life. Many people recognize polymers as what makes up plastic products – like those grocery store shopping bags that are “bad” for the environment. Yet, polymers are in many other things including the trees you see in your backyard, the breakfast cereal you eat, and the clothing you put on. Polymers are essential to human life in many ways. They are a valuable component to the natural world.
Most people would agree that making the move from hazardous and bad-for-the-environment materials to those that are more sustainable is a very good thing. This is happening in most sectors across the world now. Polymers are no different in this goal. Natural polymers, including the water soluble polymer, are able to be good for the planet while also being good for human use. Take a look at what natural polymers are.
Take a Step Back: What Are Polymers?
Polymers are created from long individual molecules called monomers. “Mono” means “one” whereas “poly” means “many.” These individual parts are brought together into various types of polymers. Polymers, which is a term that means “many parts” have numerous smaller components that come together. Each of these monomers or single parts has a different application. When monomers are arranged in various ways, they take on different polymer forms.
Natural and Synthetic Polymers
Monomers can be linked together in various ways. One of the most common methods that is often used in synthetic monomers is called addiction polymers. Here, monomers are connected directly to teach other, much like adding building blocks to each other and linking them together to stay in place.
A second form is called a condensation polymer. These are linked together much differently. In this form, the monomers release a water molecule. That helps to link them together. Many of the natural polymers on the planet are condensation polymers. In that way, water becomes a natural byproduct of the linking process.
Examples of Natural Polymers
There are many types of natural polymers in use today. For example, most types of carbohydrates, starches, and proteins are polymers. DNA itself is a type of polymer. Most of what you use in a given day are considered polymers including everything from the food you eat to the wrapper it was in and even the napkin you used to wipe your hands after.
It’s important to understand natural polymers and how they are structured, as well as their characteristics and uses. When we understand this, we can choose more natural polymers that are, in many ways, environmentally better choices than synthetic polymers. While they do not always work in every situation, natural polymers are highly versatile. Take a look at some natural polymer examples.
Perhaps the most common type of natural polymer is cellulose. This polymer is found in plants including trees. They are made up of long and stretched out glucose components. This glucose aids in the photosynthesis process that plants rely on. Because cellulose polymers can be stretched out, they allow trees to grow. They can also be used to create fibers that we can use to make clothing. For example, hemp and cotton cellulose can be stretched out to easily make clothing. You may also know that cellulose also produces paper products – that is an example of a natural polymer at its best. Cellulose is very effective because it does not dissolve in water.
Another type of polymer that forms from the use of glucose is carbohydrates. You may know that carbohydrates are made up of sugar and starches, which can be used as food. In this application, the monomers (in glucose form) connect a bit differently than cellulose. They do not stretch out in the same way – but rather bunch up. That allows the carbohydrates to take up much less space. This type of monomer is able to dissolve in water, much different from cellulose.
Chiton is another very common natural polymer. It’s found in fungi – including mushrooms – in their cell walls. It is also found in the exoskeletons of spiders and insects. The only difference between chiton and cellulose is a single glucose monomer. Yet, we can use this type of natural polymer to make plastic food wraps that are completely edible. It can also be used to clean industrial wastewater.
DNA and RNA
Another important type of natural polymer is DNA. These come from the monomer nucleotides. DNA is the genetic code that is what makes an organism take shape. RNA provides specific genetic information from DNA. This is a type of condensation polymer.
Proteins are one of the most impressive types of natural polymers because there are millions of kinds of them. They all come from amino acid monomers, though. There are about 20 different types of amino acids, but there are so many arrangements and alignments possible that there are so many different types of proteins out there. Think about proteins in your own body – skin is different from muscle, fingernails are different from hair. You can also compare feathers to fur. This type of natural polymer has been used for centuries in various applications for human use from food itself to clothing.
Rubber is a natural polymer. It comes from latex that comes from rubber trees. These are a bit different than other polymers. As noted, most natural polymers are condensation polymers. However, rubber is an addition polymer that forms from isoprene monomers. This particular polymer is so important because it can stretch and bounce due to the connections. Rubber is highly effective and very important to the creation of many of the products we use today.
Natural polymers are fascinating because they provide a bit of encouragement. If we can use these natural polymers to replace some of the synthetic polymers that cause environmental harm, it may be possible to improve the environment without reducing any application of life. At Polymer Chemistry Innovations, Inc., we are making all types of polymers including the water soluble polymer that may be right for your application. Reach out to us to learn more.