Thermoplastic elastomer (TPE)

TPE Recycling

Jul 29, 2021

Thermoplastic elastomers, or TPEs, are polymer materials that exhibit traits of both thermoplastics (in terms of easy processing at high temperatures), and vulcanized rubbers (in terms of flexibility and elasticity at room temperatures) [1]. This has led to them also being dubbed “thermoplastic rubbers” due to their co-polymer composition, often having materials that individually behave thermoplastically or elastomerically distributed throughout their molecular structure resulting in rigid domains within a flexible rubber lattice [2].

The latticed structure of many TPEs – including both rigid polyolefin thermoplastic regions within an elastomeric rubber lattice.

As a result, TPEs can be formed according to a wide range of specifications, being soft or rigid, transparent or colored, adhesive, glossy, flame-retardant, etc. [3]. They are often used as suitable substitutes for materials like latex, silicone rubber, and even PVC, in products such as adhesives, footwear, medical devices (like tubes, catheters, or inhalers) [3], automotive parts (like airbag covers), and household goods – or in other products which would benefit from exhibiting elastomeric properties over a wide temperature range [1].

TPEs do not have their own resin identification code due to the wide range of specifications they can be manufactured to, and would likely fall under “other”.

Due to their thermoplastic properties, they are also completely recyclable, through similar melting and re-extruding processes as other thermoplastics [3]. This is another benefit of TPEs over similar materials such as types of rubber, which are typically thermoset materials that cannot be melted and recycled in this manner [1].

TPEs are used whenever flexibility over a wide temperature range is desired, and so one common application of them is in car airbag covers.

References

[1] Omnexus, “Thermoplastic Elastomers 101: An Ultimate Guide,” omnexus.specialchem.com. https://omnexus.specialchem.com/selection-guide/thermoplastic-elastomer (accessed Jul. 29, 2021).

[2] Aguilar-Bolados, M. Yazdani-Pedram, and R. Verdejo, “Thermal, electrical, and sensing properties of rubber nanocomposites,” High-Performance Elastomeric Materials Reinforced by Nano-Carbons, pp. 149–175, Jan. 2020, doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-816198-2.00007-4.

[3] Advantage Environment, “Thermoplastic elastomers – Flexible and recyclable,” Miljönytta, Mar. 27, 2013. http://advantage-environment.com/buildings/thermoplastic-elastomers-flexible-and-recyclable/.

The latticed structure of many TPEs – including both rigid polyolefin thermoplastic regions within an elastomeric rubber lattice.

TPEs do not have their own resin identification code due to the wide range of specifications they can be manufactured to, and would likely fall under “other”.

TPEs are used whenever flexibility over a wide temperature range is desired, and so one common application of them is in car airbag covers.

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