Generally speaking, acrylic resin is a category of plastics that is created through a chemical process from acrylic acid, an organic, carbon-based compound. To make hard plastics, acrylic resin in the form of polymethyl methacrylate or PMMA is used. Polymethyl acrylate is a different type which forms a soft, rubbery plastic. It is sold commercially under various names, but acrylic is the common name for it. Acrylic resin has many uses, from adhesives and lacquer in its semi-liquid form to aquariums, signboards, and cell phone screens when formed into a solid state. While its uses are numerous and its advantages notable, there are some disadvantages to the material as well, most significantly at the production stage.
Makeup of Acrylic Resin
Acrylic resin is considered a thermoplastic substance. In other words, when heated it becomes liquid. When cooled it transforms into a glasslike material. In technical terms, it is created through the process of polymerization. At a molecular level, that means it is composed of a repetitious chain of 3-dimensional molecules. When strung together, they form what is known generally as plastic.
Pros of Acrylic Resin
Acrylic resin in its solid form makes a good alternative to glass, although it is half as dense. It has a weaker impact strength than engineered polymer plastics, but more so than glass. When it breaks, rather than shatter like glass it splits into larger pieces that are dull. Acrylic is almost entirely transparent, which makes it suitable for any application originally saved for glass. Acrylic is also extremely weatherproof, making it ideal when used outdoors. In its solid form, acrylic will last decades. Uncoated acrylic lets about the same amount of ultraviolet light through as glass, but it can be coated to absorb a greater amount. It does not yellow in the sunlight after time either.
Cons of Acrylic Resin
Solid acrylics should not be used to support extremely heavy loads, as it becomes brittle under excessive weight. Without the addition of a scratch-resistant coating, it scratches much more easily than glass. In its production, acrylic is problematic because as it burns, it releases carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde. The production of every two pounds of acrylic resin requires twice as much petroleum. Despite the multitude of uses for the material, it is a net energy loser. PMMA also reacts poorly to solvents and chemicals which can cause it to warp and dissolve. On the plus side of this, the product commonly called superglue works exceedingly well to join pieces of acrylic. The superglue essentially uses a chemical process that heats up the hard plastic and welds the acrylic pieces together.
Plastics, including acrylic resins, have revolutionized industrial and social life in countless ways. However, their extraordinary qualities are not without consequence. Aside from the chemicals that are released during their production and that are stored in them at the molecular level, plastic production require fossil fuels as their main input. In a world seeking ways to move away from fossil fuel dependency, plastic production may be endangered.