What is the functionality of polymers

Functional polymers

Functional polymers (English: functional polymers or smart polymers) and material combinations based on them are complex macromolecular material systems with a high degree of integration of “functionalities”. Accordingly, they consist of special native or synthetic polymers that take on or can perform active, “smart” functions and / or have the ability to react actively to stimulators such as pressure, heat, light or electricity, which often leads to fascinating effects.


Functional polymers are also characterized by specific adsorption, reactivity and transport properties and are therefore suitable as materials for sensors, actuators or membranes, for example. They can also be used for surface and interface changing, compatibilizing and other applications. Their specific properties result from the molecular and supramolecular structures of the macromolecules that make them up. Furthermore, suitable polymers can be modified by means of specific inorganic or organic additives in order to achieve functional polymers with these special material properties.

Functional polymers are the focus of intensive research and development activities. The classic applications of polymers are in the area of ​​construction. Functional polymers are used in the non-structural area. Polymers with specific electrical, magnetic, optical, electrochromic, thermochromic, antibacterial, liquid-crystalline or other functional properties are of interest.

The term functional polymers is understood to mean macromolecular systems with exceptional properties as well as their combination with organic low-molecular substances or inorganic materials, nanoparticles, nanofibers or nanotubes. These are basic materials for new applications, including research into related manufacturing processes and the generation of associated equipment. The importance of functional materials based on native or synthetic polymers results from the fact that they form a material basis for technological developments and that key technologies of this century can hardly be realized without the use of novel functional polymer materials and polymer material systems.

Despite the diverse scientific and technological activities, only a few selected applications such as organic light-emitting diodes, so-called OLEDs or polymer-based displays are available so far. The functional polymer systems are ascribed an increasing relevance for a variety of applications, for example in the areas of information and communication technology, generation, storage or conversion of energy or life sciences, which are interesting for the low-price segment and for mass markets, among other things. However, applications are also being discussed in a large number of niche markets or new markets.

Products made from and with electronic functional polymers

  • Polymer actuators - mechano-active functional polymer composites; Polymer sensors
  • Field effect transistors; integrated polymer circuits and RFID transponders
  • Organic thin film solar cells - polymer solar cells
  • organic electroluminescent diodes; Polymer displays ("e-paper")
  • Polymer fiber optics and polymer films with switchable transparency
  • Antistatic products and shielding materials against electromagnetic radiation

Functional textiles and composite textile structures

  • Functional layers on textile surfaces; Active substance-carrying textile fibers
  • electrically conductive and piezoelectric fibers and textiles
  • Intelligent adaptive textiles and transfer systems; "Smart clothings";
  • Biocompatible textile constructs; "Tissue engineering materials"
  • Chromatography, apheresis, adsorber fibers; "Drug delivery systems"

Potentials and areas of application

Functional polymer systems also offer potential, primarily resulting from the possible combinations of individual components in microsystems, such as sensors and actuators with fluidics and logic in the case of sensor array chips, which consist of microfluidic structures, actuators and suitable sensors as well as evaluation and communication electronics ("lab on a chip "). Functional polymers also allow structuring and production technologies such as printing. Compared to the application of conventional semiconductor materials, the use of functional polymer materials has a number of advantages, especially in the ability to combine and integrate different functionalities, in the adaptability to external influencing factors and environmental conditions, in the free design, in the applicability of technologies low manufacturing costs and suitability for mass production can be seen.

Vehicle and mechanical engineering is strongly characterized by the integration of additional sensors, actuators, electronics, control technology, mechatronics and adaptronics as well as the use of special materials with specific polymer-based functionalities, including the further development of construction principles and the evaluation of the operational safety of the resulting products.


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