Bakelite: Structure and Uses

What is Bakelite?

We cannot deny the presence of polymers in our lives. We are surrounded by objects, most of which, some way or the other have a polymer associated with them. The ease of moulding polymers into different shapes and their relatively low cost of production has been the main reason for their universal usage. As such, Bakelite is one of the commercially manufactured polymers that we witness in our daily lives.

Bakelite is the commercial name for the polymer obtained by the polymerization of phenol and formaldehyde. These are one of the oldest polymers that were synthesized by man. Phenol is made to react with formaldehyde. The condensation reaction of the two reactants in a controlled acidic or basic medium results in the formation of ortho and para hydroxymethyl phenols and their derivatives.

When the phenol is taken in excess and the reaction medium is made acidic, the product of the condensation reaction obtained is acidic. Whereas, when the quantity of formaldehyde taken is more than that of phenol in the reacting mixture, and the reaction occurs in a basic medium, the condensation product is known as resol.

Novolac and Resol

These intermediate condensation products are used as resins in different industries. Bakelite is obtained when novolac is allowed to undergo cross-linking in the presence of a cross-linking agent. In general, phenol taken in excess acts as the cross-linking agent. The cross-linked product of phenol and formaldehyde have the following structure.

cross-linked product of phenol and formaldehyde

Uses of Bakelite

Now coming to the uses of Bakelite, since this element has a low electrical conductivity and high heat resistance it can be used in manufacturing electrical switches and machine parts of electrical systems. It is a thermosetting polymer and Bakelite has high strength meaning it basically retains its form even after extensive moulding. Phenolic resins are also extensively used as adhesives and binding agents. They are further used for protective purposes as well as in coating industry.

Further, Bakelite has been used for making the handles of variety of utensils. It is one of the most common and important polymers that are used to make different parts of many objects.

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