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Cryogenics: what's it got to do with polymers?

THIS MONTH'S UPDATE FROM THE RUBBER AND PLASTICS RESEARCH ASSOCIATION (RAPRA) LOOKS AT THE ROLE CRYOGENICS PLAYS IN POLYMER SCIENCE AFTER A RECENT VISIT TO CRYOX IN DIDCOT, OXFORDSHIRE.

We all think of Cryogenics as freezing someone until they can be resurrected or storing embryos, but there are a few surprising applications that do not immediately come to mind, such as freezing fish fingers! Other uses include medical MRI scanners, which depend on cryogenics to keep their superconducting magnets cold, as well as LNG or liquefied natural gas, which also depends fundamentally on cryogenics. Much science involves low temperatures-with less molecular vibration it is possible to 'see' more clearly inside material structures or get sharper signals from detectors.

Cryogenics is a growing area as science and technology push the boundaries of energy production and space exploration to name but a couple. As the use of cryogenics becomes more widespread, the potential for the use of plastics becomes greater and the need to find new polymers becomes apparent. Where do they come in? Well, in almost every application-wherever liquids are involved, there will be pipes and valves for a start-with seals for example. And materials which are wonderfully compliant (giving an excellent seal) at ambient temperature, may be as unforgiving as rock at cryogenic temperature, or may become brittle and shatter.

The low temperatures required are generally achieved using cryogens (liquid nitrogen boils at -196[degrees]C, liquid helium at -269[degrees]C, which is only four degrees above absolute zero or 4K on the Kelvin scale).

There is a growing amount of cryogenic material performance data available in the public domain, though there still remain many gaps that call for testing to be carried out. There can also be hazards with already published data; in an area of technology which is still developing rapidly, hindsight puts some historical test methodologies in question and in some cases, material production processes may have gone through revisions resulting in minor changes, for example to impurities-with substantial effects on cryogenic performance.

With this in mind, RAPRA draws attention to Cryox and the STFC laboratories. STFC is the Government-owned Science and Technology Facilities Council, and has far and away the biggest resource in the UK of cryogenic test facilities and low temperature technologists. Anyone with a cryogenic enquiry can use RAPRA's enquiry form to seek assistance.

FURTHER INFORMATION: WWW.RAPRALIMITED.ORG
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Title Annotation:UPDATE
Comment:Cryogenics: what's it got to do with polymers?(UPDATE)
Publication:British Plastics & Rubber
Date:Mar 1, 2013
Words:396
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