Material of the 21st century: Plastics move the world

An uninsulated single-family house, built in the 1960s, loses up to two thirds of its heating energy through external walls, cellar and roof. Every year, approxi-mately 2000 liters of heating oil are wasted this way. In order to prevent the heat loss and reduce the energy demand, houses need a solid coat of modern insulating materials. The most important fully synthetic material in heat insulation is foamed polystyrene. Most widely used is expanded polystyrene rigid foam (EPS), which can be formed into blocks, boards, and other geometrical shapes. Extruded polystyrene rigid foam (XPS) can be produced as a continuous string of foam in varying dimensions.

All in all, polymer foams sustainably contribute to the insulation of buildings, to the advantage not only of the consumer, but also of the environment. In comparison: The consumption of heating oil in a conventionally built house is approximately 19 liters per square meter (2470 liters/year), the consumption of a house with synthetic insulation only 5.5 liters (585 liters /year). A reduction of 1900 liters of heating oil translates into savings of 1600 Euros and a reduction of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide of more than 75 percent; instead of 7700 kilograms of carbon dioxide, only 1800 kilograms are emitted (Source: PlasticsEurope).

Around eight percent of the German drinking water seeps into the ground un-used, which approximately equals a billion liters per day. Across Europe, the rate of loss is even higher with approximately 25 percent. A similar situation can be found for waste water: approximately a third of the waste water system shows faults and defects. Drinking water pipes usually consist of different materials, such as plastics, metals and composite materials. Aside from steel, underground pipes also use polyethylene pipes (PE-pipes) or pipes made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

For installations in the house, pipes are predominantly made of copper, stainless steel, galvanized steel (threaded tube), aluminum-multilayer composite and other plastics (PE, PVC-U). Plastic pipes are increasingly used because of their quick and simple installation. The repair of (often aging-related) damages on underground pipes and sewers nowadays mostly utilizes repair methods that do not require digging and therefore avoid damage to streets and sidewalks. Different methods are available, such as the insertion of partial liners or flexible pipe or tube strands. The common factor is the insertion of a synthetic tube impregnated with synthetic resin (epoxy resin or polyurethane resin) or a flexible tube made of polyethylene or polypropylene into the damaged pipe and the leaks are sealed.

Besides the transport of water, synthetics also play a large role in the treatment and purification of drinking water. A major problem is the availability of clean drinking water. Currently clean water is in short supply for approximately 1.1 bil-lion people. According to the United Nations (UN), 6000 people die every day, around two million people each year, because the hygiene is not appropriate and there is no access to clean, safe drinking water.

Part of the problem is ‘home made’, the logical consequence of human existence: waste water. 2.4 billion people do not know what to do with their waste water. It is introduced into the environment without any treatment and purification and finds its way maybe into a lower-level drinking water reservoir in the area.

According to calculations, one liter of waste water can pollute eight liters of fresh water. Not surprisingly the main sufferers in this issue are people in the developing nations. But how can this problem be managed? Perhaps by decentralized solutions directly at the location of water withdrawal. The Swiss company Vestergaard Frandsen has developed a mobile, easily transportable water treatment unit, which apparently points in the right direction.

For their new, portable water purificantion system Lifestraw Family the company Vestergaard Fransen utilizes Ultrason E 6020 P, a polyether sulfon (PESU) created by BASF. The easy-to-operate plastic construction LifeStraw Family is used to purify large amounts of waste water on location in the villages and families into drinking water.

Read more: Plastics 565

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