Poly(vinyl alcohol) has been available since around 1924, when its synthesis via the saponification of poly(vinyl acetate) was first described by Herman and Haehnel. In the early years, the principal application for PVOH was in textile sizing. Today, much of the PVOH produced is used as a protective colloid in the manufacture of polymer emulsions. It is also found in many other applications, including the binding of pigments and fibres, dip coated articles, protective strippable coatings, the production of detergents and cleansing agents, adhesives, emulsion paints and solution cast film.
All of these applications involve the use of the polymer in solution, since the thermal degradation characteristics of PVOH limit its ability to be used as a conventional thermoplastic. Unplasticised PVOH thermally degrades at temperatures of about 150°C, with the release of water and the formation of conjugated double bonds. As the crystalline melting point of PVOH ranges from 180°C to 240°C, its use as a thermoplastic, processable on conventional thermoplastic processing equipment, is limited unless it can be plasticised to such an extent that thermal dehydration is avoided. In practice, the amount of plasticiser necessary to achieve this is so high that many of the useful properties of PVOH are sacrificed.
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