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Thermally conductive plastic compound developments will open new markets

Plastics that are usually thermally insulating are never considered as potential materials for any application that requires removing heat. Several compounders/producers have been recently developing heat-conducting thermoplastic compounds that will have thermal conductivity as high as 60W/mk. Initial developments have been concentrated on heat-resistant engineering polymers such as LCP, PPS, PEEK and Polysulphones. Newer developments are based on medium temperature resistant polymers such as ABS, PBT, Polycarbonate and Nylon. There seems to be an opportunity for PP and PS in non-electronic applications such as food packaging heating and cooling products.

To achieve thermal conductivity additives like graphite, carbon fibers, and ceramics like Aluminum Nitride or Boron Nitrides are used. Graphite provides electrical as well as thermal conductivity while ceramics provide only thermal conductivity. Graphite fibers made from petroleum pitch are excellent thermal conductors while the structural graphites have lower thermal conductivity. High loadings as high as 70% of fibers are required to achieve good thermal conductivity. These thermally conductive plastic compounds are quite expensive mainly due to higher cost of fibers.

The major applications for thermally conductive plastics would be in microelectronics to provide the desired heat sinks to pack more in smaller space. The common uses are circuit boards, tubing for heat exchanger in appliances. Newer applications will emerge once their costs are lowered.

The major players in thermally conductive products are: A. Schulman, Cool Polymers, Dupont, GE Plastics, LNP, PolyOne, RTP and Ticona.

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