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MSE 56700 Polymer Synthesis : Importance of Bakelite to the Society

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The report should include the following:

1. History of polymer

2. Origin, structure and synthesis

3. Importance to society

4. Advantages and disadvantages

5. Uses

6. Environmental impact

7.polymer is bakelite



A polymer is a chemical compound or different mixtures of compounds which are normally formed by polymerization (Saunders, 2012). A polymer consists of molecules that are bonded together in long repeating structural units. Polymers can occur naturally or can be synthetic. For instance, the rubber, it is a naturally occurring polymeric material. This polymer is extremely useful with different useful properties.Both the synthetic and natural polymers have the following properties, they can be inelastic, soft, malleable and insulative, some are reflective while others are elastic, translucent and brittle. Some polymers are very tough and impact resistant (Saunders, 2012). There are several examples of polymers which are commonly used.These synthetic polymers include polypropylene, synthetic rubber, Bakelite, nylon, neoprene, polyethylene low density, polyethylene high density, polystyrene, poly(vinyl chloride), polychloroprene, poly(vinyl acetate) and the polytetrafluoroethylene (Reichardt & Thomas., 2011).

The naturally occurring polymers include the shellac, silk, wool, cellulose which is made up of wood and paper, amber and natural rubber. Polymers are created through polymerization of small and very many molecules known as monomers. In this paper, I will research on the polymer known as Bakelite, its history, origin, structure, and synthesis. Its importance to the society, its advantages and disadvantages, its uses and its impact on the environmental (Saunders, 2012).

History of Bakelite

A Bakelite was also called phenolic resin. It was a type of plastic which was used in the earlier years (Bijker, 1987). Many scientists had tried to mix phenol with formaldehyde and insoluble and a hard substance which could not be removed and was of no use was produced. Among all those chemists no one was able to come up with a useful product. Baekeland applied a phenol and formaldehyde mixture with various types of wood. He then combined it with carbolic acid which led to the formation of phenolic resin (Bijker, 1987).

Origin, structure, and synthesis of Bakelite


Bakelite was invented by a chemist known as Leo Baekeland in the year (1863-1944).It was a type of plastic which was from a German Bakelite. He was born in Belgian. It was originally formed by condensation of phenol and an aldehyde (Strom & Seth, 2011).


Bakelite structure is made up of wide chains which are cross-linked and which stops the chains from unfolding. Its structure is made up of phenol (C6H6O) and formaldehyde (CH2O). In the presence of heat and an alkali, a reaction which is exothermic is formed. The phenol is derived from coal tar while the formaldehyde is derived from methanol (Tejadoa, Peñaa, Labidia, Echeverria, & Mondragona, 2007).

Synthesis of Bakelite

Bakelite preparation follows a certain procedure to be successful. All polymers are usually formed from monomers.Monomers are small organic molecules which finally polymerizes to form a polymer (Tejadoa, Peñaa, Labidia, Echeverria, & Mondragona, 2007). While polymerization is the process through which organic molecules are converted into higher molecular weight molecules through addition reaction or condensation reaction.  A synthetic polymer named phenol-formaldehyde should be introduced.  Then a phenol-formaldehyde reaction mix should be prepared by mixing 20g phenol and 25g formaldehyde and 55ml glacial acetic acid. It should be done under a fume hood. A 25ml of the reaction mixture is transferred quantitatively to a 150ml beaker. The beaker should then be placed on a white paper towel. Add 11ml of concentrated hydrochloric acid and stir thoroughly. A white precipitate is formed which is insoluble in hydrochloric acid at the point of condensation. Stir continuously and the plastic forms become pink and it is washed before handling. Put the mixture under temperature observations (Tejadoa, Peñaa, Labidia, Echeverria, & Mondragona, 2007). At 75-60 c a semi-solid appears at the bottom of the beaker. At this point, the reaction is very fast and rate of reaction is high. On constant heating, the polymerization begins rapidly.

Importance of Bakelite to the society

Bakelite has contributed a lot to the society in the following ways. Bakelite has been used in the society to build better houses, cars, furniture, equipment, and objects. It is also used in the society to build common products which are used every day like microwaves, furniture, clocks .telephones, and cars. Bakelite has also contributed in lessening the animal extinction and less the materials as materials such as ivory, bone, plant fibers and animal skins were mostly used. Due to its durable and lightweight nature, it could be made in all shapes. Bakelite was also used in the society purposely to making of jewelry boxes, desk sets, kitchenware, tableware, clocks, radios, telephones, and lamps.

Bakelite contributed a lot to the society’s fashion. Its jewelry became very popular as well as affordable. Bakelite also knew to have introduced plastics, nylon, polyester, and spandex to the fashion world. These plastics have been an inspiration to the fashion designers to produce more with less material, it has also led them to do more fabric choices, enhance their creativity in producing durable goods with less weight, fewer wrinkles, and fewer expenses.

Advantages and disadvantages of Bakelite


Bakelite has several advantages which include;

  1. Bakelite is easily melted.
  2. Bakelite is less flammable.
  3. It is an early celluloid plastic.
  4. Bakelite is a thermosetting phenol.
  5. Bakelite has a great strength.
  6. It is cheap and very affordable compared to other plastics.
  7. Bakelite is a good insulator in areas with normal temperatures.
  8. It is durable and light in weight.
  9. Bakelite is easy to use as it depends on the product.
  10. Bakelite is a disable friendly.


Bakelite has also several disadvantages which include

  1. Bakelite can become volatile over a given period of time.
  2. Bakelite can spontaneously combust over time.
  3. It can be cracked.
  4. Bakelite is a brittle plastic.
  5. It is not -recyclable.
  6. Bakelite can become very flexible over time and lead to breakage.

Uses of Bakelite

Bakelite like other polymers has several uses.These uses include (BYJUS, 2015);

  1. Bakelite was suitable for electrical and automobile industries. This is because of Bakelite’s high resistance to electricity, heat, and chemical.
  2. Bakelite was used for all non-conducting parts of the radio.
  3. It was used in electrical devices such as bases and sockets for light bulbs and electron tubes.
  4. Bakelite also supported any type of electrical components, insulators and automobile distributor caps.
  5. Bakelite was mostly used in myriad applications such as in mouthpieces, in cameras, early machine guns, in solid body electric guitars, rotary dial telephones, and also used in appliance casings.
  6. Bakelite was also used in the manufacture of coins.
  7. Bakelite was used to make decorative articles.
  8. It was also used to make TV cabinets(BYJUS, 2015).

Environmental impacts.

Bakelite is a polymer which has both positive and negative impact on the environment. However, Bakelite has got more negative impacts on the environment. Bakelite is a synthetic plastic which is manufactured and it contains high amounts of substances like formaldehyde and asbestos which are very toxic. This substance formaldehyde causes severe irritation to the eyes, nose and the skin. Exposing regularly to formaldehyde may lead to causing different types of cancer, so Bakelite poses a health threat to the environment and affects human mostly (bakelitegroup62, 2017).

If Bakelite breaks, the synthetic materials forming it becomes airborne. This mostly leads to ingestion, inhalation or even direct skin contact. Disposing Bakelite products to the environment is extremely dangerous to the environment. Improper disposal leads to pollution as the plastic is non-biodegradable and it remains for a long time in the environment. When people replace ceiling, floor tiles or when a dish or a bracelet breaks they get exposed to Bakelite. Bakelite also contains asbestos which is a very dangerous toxin. High levels of exposure to Bakelite can lead to mesothelioma which is cancer which begins by covering the abdomen and the lungs, lung infections and other respiratory diseases. In order to ensure sustainability of Bakelite in a way that it is not dangerous to the environment is by recycling waste Bakelite (bakelitegroup62, 2017).


ALFA. (n.d.). Showing > Bakelite Chemical Formula. Retrieved from

bakelitegroup62. (2017, October). Environmental Impact And Sustainability. Retrieved from bakelitegroup62:

Bijker, W. (1987). The social construction of Bakelite: Toward a theory of invention. The social construction of technological systems, 159-187.

BYJUS. (2015, December 16). Bakelite: Structure and Uses. Retrieved from BYJU'S:

PICQUERY. (n.d.). Bakelite Chemical Structure. Retrieved from

Reichardt, C., & Thomas., W. (2011). Solvents and solvent effects in organic chemistry. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Saunders, K. J. (2012). Organic polymer chemistry: an introduction to the organic chemistry of adhesives, fibres, paints, plastics and rubbers. New York: Springer Science & Business Media.

Strom, T., & Seth, R. (2011). 100+ years of plastics. Leo Baekeland and Beyond.

Tejadoa, Peñaa, Labidia, Echeverria, & Mondragona. (2007). Physico-chemical characterization of lignins from different sources for use in phenol–formaldehyde resin synthesis. Elesevier, 1655-1663.

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