Additives, particularly inorganic solid minute particles, have significantly contributed to the development of the polymer industry. Depending on their geometry and chemistry, additives provide polymers with better physical, thermal, electrical, mechanical, and dimensional properties. Glass bubbles are finely scattered, free-flowing fine particles with an average diameter of 15-65µm, and consists of thin-walled, sphere-shaped glass particles (0.5-1.5µm). They were first developed in the 1960s, as an extension after the production of solid glass beads.
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Glass bubbles are produced by melting a special glass formula which consists of a latent blowing agent which causes the melted glass particles to swell into a hollow bubble. The resulting glass bubbles are water-resistant, and compatible and chemically stable with various materials that are used for indirect food contact applications. In the recent years, material technology has evolved to manufacture bubbles with high strength to density ratio, thus enabling its usage in demanding polymer processing operations.
Glass bubbles provide design solutions for innovative users and new and elite materials. Moreover, they provide polymers with low-density that can be related directly to insulation properties and thermal conductivity. The three polymer types, viz., high impact polystyrene (HIPS), polyurethane (PU), and polypropylene are commonly used in applications such as housings, and walls or as foam for insulation, especially in the case of thermoset polyurethane (PU). PU foam for insulation are made with chemical blowing agents and are usually attained at very low density (0.20 – 0.40 g/cc). The PU composite density with glass bubbles is in the range of 0.76 – 0.95 g/cc; therefore, they are not compatible with urethane for attaining maximum insulation properties.
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Key players operating in the global glass bubbles market include 3M, Sinosteel Maanshan New Material Technology, and others.