Polyolefins, including polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), represent more than half of commercial polymers produced in the world. They are known to be cost-effective and good performing materials used in a broad range of commodity applications that influence our everyday lives. On the other hand, less attention has been paid to their specialty applications, commonly requiring the material to have multiple performance functions. The limitations and shortcomings of polyolefins have stemmed from lack of functionality and structure diversity, which are compounded with the long-standing challenges in the chemical modification (functionalization) of polyolefins. In the past two decades, in conjunction with advances in metallocene catalysis, a new method based on the reactive polyolefin approach has emerged, which affords a new class of functional polyolefins with high molecular weight and well-controlled molecular structures that have functional groups located at chain ends, side chains, and block/graft segments. In addition to forming distinctive multiple phase morphology with shape hydrophobic-hydrophilic microphase separation and surface properties, some functional polyolefins with flexible polar (or ionic) groups offer excellent mobility for polarization, ion conductivity, etc. They present potentials for polyolefins in high-value, specialty applications. In this paper, I will cover three energy-related areas, including polymer film capacitors for electric energy storage, ion exchange membranes for hydrogen energy, and oil superabsorbent polymers for oil spill recovery, to discuss the effects of new polyolefin structures on their performances and the future perspectives. The objective is to provide examples that reveal underlying benefits of this new class of high-performance, cost-effective functional polyolefin materials and hopefully inspire more researchers to explore their applications.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Organic Chemistry
- Polymers and Plastics
- Inorganic Chemistry
- Materials Chemistry