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Innovations in Thermally Conductive Plastics -- the Heat is on!

SpecialChem / May 3, 2011

Modifying plastics to improve their thermal conductivity (TC) represents a key growth opportunity for specialty plastic compounders. Heat sinks and other heat-removal approaches for thermoplastics, which are inherent thermal insulators, will utilize TC compounds to replace metals. While metals are known for their superior heat transfer capabilities, their use comes at the cost of weight, coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) mismatch, and manufacturing constraints that limit design freedom. Non-filled plastics typically have a thermal conductivity on the order of k=0.17-0.35 W/mK (Watts per meter Kelvin) in contrast to metals and ceramics with k values up to 300 W/mK. Thermally conductive plastics with ks in the range of 1 to 100 W/mK are commercially available with the higher values (5-100 W/mK) usually associated with materials that are also electrically conductive. Raheama, high thermal conductivity carbon-fiber filler developed by Teijin Ltd, conducts heat better than metals such as silver or copper. Timcal has developed ‘soft granule’ expanded graphite that is readily incorporated into plastics using typical feeding technologies. Cool Polymers’ highly innovative CoolPoly TC plastic grades range in thermal conductivity from 1 W/mK up to 100 W/mK based on resin type. PolyOne’s Therma-Tech engineering plastic compounds range from 1 to 30 W/mK. Manufacturers across broad market segments including computer, appliance, lighting, automotive, aerospace and industrial are increasingly turning to TC plastic compounds to transfer heat away from sensitive electronic components. TC grades are being specified for LED lighting, heating elements, electronic interfaces, motor coils and bobbins, temperature sensors, and switches.

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