Polyethene is part of many packaging materials. For this reason, today we want to make a small look into where it all started. Since polyethene packaging discovery, now it is one of the most valuable plastics in history.
What exactly is polyethene?
Polyethene is a polymer of ethylene molecules. Thus, it is a fusion of a series of molecules. So, depending on the manufacturing conditions, it can be very stable. Examples would be a bulletproof vest, or something soft and flexible, such as stretchable films for pallets or plastic bags.
The first accident
It happens in many discoveries that they come due to an accident. Polyethene started around 1898. Hans von Pechmann, a German scientist, created it. During an experiment, he heated a sensitive, toxic and explosive gas called diazomethane. This operation left a white waxy substance on the base. At that moment, he did not know how to use it. Hence, after showing it to some colleagues, they gave it the name of polymethylene.
Polyethene packaging discovery
In 1933, English scientists Eric Fawcett and Reginald Gibson synthesised it as we know it today. Discovering polyethene was the result of obtaining that white substance through a big explosion. Due to this, the experiment stopped.
Two years later, another scientist, Michael Perrin created the first practical method of manufacturing polyethene. He discovered this method was possible when the molecules were in the absence of oxygen. This reaction did not produce any explosion.
Polyethene during World War II
Thanks to the advances made by Perrin, after four years we saw the first commercial polyethene production plant in Cheshire Winnington. And its output was so useful to England during the war that the manufacturing process became Top Secret.
Polyethene isolated radar devices. Additionally, polyethene detected manoeuvres of German aviation in advance. Also, to locate the German submarine fleet installed against England and cutting vital supply routes.
After the war
The manufacturing process was made public, and many commercial enterprises opened. This situation gave it new uses and new production methods.
Today, polyethene has become indispensable. Polyethene is incredibly versatile and is so good that it is used almost for everything: food packaging, filling and packing padding and more. Of course, polyethene is just some of the plastics currently used. There are also polypropylene, polystyrene, and more. Each of these plastics has its history.