Introduction to Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate (PC) is a highly versatile thermoplastic polymer that has gained significant popularity in various industries due to its exceptional properties and broad applications. With its transparency, impact resistance, heat resistance, and lightweight nature, polycarbonate has become a preferred choice for a wide array of products. In this article, we will explore the fascinating world of polycarbonate, discussing its composition, key properties, common applications, and advantages over other materials. Additionally, we will address some frequently asked questions to provide a comprehensive understanding of this remarkable material.

The picture on the left shows some common PC products.

What is polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate (PC) is a naturally transparent, amorphous, multifunctional thermoplastic polymer known for its exceptional properties. It is highly impact-resistant and lightweight. PC is widely used in a variety of industries and applications. In addition to this, polycarbonate transmits light as efficiently as glass and can withstand greater impact than many other plastics, making it very popular. In addition, PC has good heat resistance and can be compounded with flame-retardant materials. Due to its durability, flexibility, and ease of manufacturing, polycarbonate is widely regarded as the engineering plastic of choice for products requiring robustness, transparency, and dimensional stability.

What is polycarbonate made of?

Polycarbonate is a thermoplastic polymer that is primarily made from the chemical synthesis of bisphenol A (BPA) and phosgene. BPA serves as a key building block in the production of polycarbonate, while phosgene is used as a reactant to polymerize the monomers into the final polycarbonate polymer. Through a controlled polymerization process, the BPA and phosgene react to form a polymer chain with repeating carbonate groups, resulting in the creation of polycarbonate. This versatile material can be manufactured in various shapes and forms, making it widely used in numerous industries and applications.

What is the history of polycarbonate material?

The history of polycarbonate dates back to the mid-20th century when its synthesis and development began. In 1953, scientists at the General Electric Company, Dr. Daniel W. Fox and Dr. Hermann Schnell, discovered the polycarbonate resin while investigating materials for electrical insulation. Their work led to the development of a clear, strong, and heat-resistant plastic, which was later named Lexan® by General Electric.

The commercial production of polycarbonate began in the late 1950s, and it quickly gained popularity due to its unique combination of properties. Its transparency comparable to glass, high impact strength, and lightweight nature made it a suitable alternative to traditional materials such as glass and metal.

Over the years, polycarbonate has been widely used and has become an essential engineering plastic in many sectors. Advancements in polymerization techniques and improvements in the manufacturing process have led to the production of different grades of polycarbonate with enhanced properties.

What is the melting point of polycarbonate?

The melting point of polycarbonate typically ranges from 220 to 230 degrees Celsius.

What is the structure of polycarbonate?

The structure of polycarbonate consists of carbonate groups linked together in a polymer chain. This polymer chain structure gives polycarbonate its unique properties, such as transparency, impact resistance, and heat resistance.

What is the density of polycarbonate?

The density of polycarbonate typically ranges from 1.2 to 1.22 grams per cubic centimeter (g/cm³).

What is the tensile strength of polycarbonate?

The tensile strength of polycarbonate is typically around 55 to 75 megapascals (MPa).

What is the thermal conductivity of polycarbonate?

The thermal conductivity of polycarbonate is relatively low, typically ranging from 0.19 to 0.22 watts per meter-kelvin (W/m·K).

What is the heat resistance of polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate has good heat resistance compared to many other plastics. It can withstand temperatures ranging from approximately -40 to 130 degrees Celsius (-40 to 266 degrees Fahrenheit) without significant deformation or loss of properties.

How chemically compatible is polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate is generally chemically compatible with a wide range of substances. It exhibits good resistance to many chemicals, including acids, bases, alcohols, and oils. However, it is important to note that polycarbonate can be sensitive to certain solvents, such as ketones and some chlorinated hydrocarbons, which can cause stress cracking or surface crazing.

What is the temperature rating of polycarbonate materials?

Polycarbonate materials have a temperature rating that typically ranges from -40 to 130 degrees Celsius (-40 to 266 degrees Fahrenheit). This temperature range represents the typical operating conditions where polycarbonate can maintain its properties without significant deformation or loss of performance. However, it’s important to note that prolonged exposure to high temperatures or sudden temperature fluctuations can cause degradation or affect the performance of polycarbonate.

What is the Young’s modulus of polycarbonate?

The Young’s modulus of polycarbonate typically ranges from 2,000 to 2,400 megapascals (MPa).

What is the chemical formula of polycarbonate?

The chemical formula of polycarbonate is (C16H14O3)n, where n represents the number of repeating units in the polymer chain.

How scratch-resistant is polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate is known for its excellent scratch resistance compared to many other plastics. It has a high level of hardness that makes it resistant to surface scratches and abrasions. However, it is not completely scratch-proof, and very sharp or abrasive objects can still cause scratches on its surface. The scratch resistance can be further enhanced through the use of coatings or treatments specifically designed to improve the hardness and durability of polycarbonate surfaces.

How impact-resistant is polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate is highly regarded for its exceptional impact resistance. It is one of the most impact-resistant thermoplastics available, with properties that make it significantly more durable than materials like glass or acrylic. Polycarbonate can withstand high-energy impacts without shattering or breaking, making it suitable for applications that require protection against impact or potential breakage.

What are the mechanical properties of polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate exhibits excellent mechanical properties, making it a widely used engineering plastic. Some key mechanical properties of polycarbonate include high impact resistance, good tensile strength, and ductility. It can withstand significant deformation without breaking or cracking, making it suitable for applications that require toughness and durability. Polycarbonate also has good flexural strength, allowing it to withstand bending without permanent deformation. Its mechanical properties make it a versatile material for various applications.

What is the chemical composition of polycarbonate?

The chemical composition of polycarbonate primarily consists of carbon (C), hydrogen (H), and oxygen (O) atoms. Polycarbonate is synthesized from the reaction between bisphenol A (BPA), which contains carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, and phosgene (COCl2). The polymerization process combines these elements to form the polycarbonate polymer chain, which is composed of repeating carbonate units (C-O-(C=O)-O-) connected by bisphenol A units.

What color is polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate is a transparent material with excellent optical clarity similar to glass. In its pure form, polycarbonate is colorless and appears transparent. However, polycarbonate can be easily pigmented or tinted during the manufacturing process to achieve a wide range of colors. This allows for the production of colored polycarbonate sheets or products in various shades and hues, depending on the desired application or aesthetic requirements. Polycarbonate pellets shown below, clear white:


How durable is polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate is known for its durability and toughness. It is a highly durable material that can withstand a range of environmental conditions and mechanical stresses. Polycarbonate exhibits excellent impact resistance, making it highly resistant to cracking or breaking when subjected to high-energy impacts. It also has good resistance to temperature extremes, UV radiation, and chemicals, which contributes to its long-term durability. Additionally, polycarbonate is a lightweight material that retains its mechanical properties over a wide temperature range, further enhancing its durability. These properties make polycarbonate suitable for various applications where durability is crucial.

How hard is polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate is a relatively hard material with good hardness properties. It has a Rockwell hardness value of approximately 70-75 on the M scale, which indicates its resistance to indentation or scratching. While polycarbonate is not as hard as some other materials like metals or ceramics, it still offers a good level of hardness for plastic. This hardness contributes to the overall durability and scratch resistance of polycarbonate, making it suitable for applications where resistance to surface damage is important.

What other terms are used for polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate, also known by its abbreviation PC, is a versatile and durable material widely used in various industries. It is commonly referred to as Lexan or Makrolon, which are brand names for specific polycarbonate products. Polycarbonate resin is the term used for the raw, unprocessed form of polycarbonate. With its excellent clarity and transparency, polycarbonate is often referred to as “clear plastic” in everyday language. These terms may be used interchangeably with “polycarbonate” depending on the specific context or industry.

What are the properties of polycarbonate materials?

Polycarbonate materials exhibit several key properties that make them highly desirable for various applications. Some of the notable properties of polycarbonate include:

High impact resistance: Polycarbonate is known for its exceptional impact resistance, making it highly durable and resistant to cracking or breaking when subjected to high-energy impacts.

Transparency and optical clarity: Polycarbonate has excellent transparency, similar to glass, allowing for excellent light transmission and optical clarity.

Good mechanical properties: Polycarbonate possesses a good balance of tensile strength, flexural strength, and ductility, making it suitable for applications that require toughness and resistance to deformation.

Thermal stability: Polycarbonate exhibits good resistance to high temperatures, allowing it to retain its mechanical properties over a wide temperature range.

UV resistance: Polycarbonate has inherent UV resistance, which makes it suitable for outdoor applications without significant degradation or yellowing over time.

Chemical resistance: Polycarbonate is resistant to many chemicals, including acids, bases, and alcohols, making it suitable for a wide range of industrial and chemical environments.

Lightweight: Polycarbonate is a lightweight material, which is advantageous for applications where weight reduction is important, such as automotive and aerospace industries.

Electrical insulation properties: Polycarbonate is an excellent electrical insulator, providing insulation against electricity and making it suitable for electrical and electronic applications.

What are the limitations of polycarbonate?

No material is perfect, and while polycarbonate has many advantages, some limitations need to be considered in practical applications:

Scratching: Polycarbonate is not as scratch-resistant as materials like glass. It can be prone to surface scratches, which may affect its appearance over time. However, the use of protective coatings or treatments can mitigate this issue.

Chemical resistance: While polycarbonate is generally chemically resistant, it may not withstand exposure to certain solvents and chemicals, such as strong acids and some organic compounds. Compatibility with specific chemicals should be considered for each application.

Weathering: Polycarbonate may undergo some degree of yellowing or degradation when exposed to prolonged UV radiation. However, the use of UV stabilizers or protective coatings can help enhance its weathering resistance.

Flammability: Polycarbonate is a flammable material and may burn when exposed to open flames or high heat. Flame-retardant additives can be incorporated to improve fire resistance.

Cost: Polycarbonate can be more expensive compared to some other thermoplastics, which may affect its viability for certain cost-sensitive applications.

Dimensional stability: Polycarbonate can exhibit some level of dimensional change when exposed to temperature variations. This property may require careful consideration in applications where precise dimensions are critical.

What other types of polycarbonate are there?

In addition to the standard polycarbonate (PC), there are some other types and variations of polycarbonate in life:

UV-stabilized polycarbonate: This type of polycarbonate is formulated with additives or coatings that enhance its resistance to UV radiation. It is commonly used in outdoor applications to prevent yellowing or degradation caused by prolonged sun exposure.

Flame-retardant polycarbonate: Flame-retardant additives are incorporated into this type of polycarbonate to improve its fire resistance. It is often used in applications where fire safety is a concern, such as electrical enclosures or building components.

Glass-filled polycarbonate: Glass fibers or glass beads are added to polycarbonate to increase its stiffness, strength, and dimensional stability. Glass-filled polycarbonate exhibits enhanced mechanical properties compared to unfilled polycarbonate and is suitable for applications requiring higher strength and rigidity.

Carbon-filled polycarbonate: Carbon fibers or carbon nanotubes are incorporated into polycarbonate to improve its electrical conductivity and mechanical properties. Carbon-filled polycarbonate is used in applications that require electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection or electromagnetic shielding.

Optical-grade polycarbonate: This type of polycarbonate undergoes additional processing and quality control to achieve high optical clarity and minimal optical distortion. It is commonly used in applications such as optical lenses, displays, and light guides.

What is polycarbonate used for?

Polycarbonate is a versatile material that finds application in various industries and sectors. Some common uses of polycarbonate include:

Safety equipment

Polycarbonate’s high impact resistance makes it suitable for safety equipment such as face shields, safety goggles, and helmets.

Automotive industry

Polycarbonate is used in automotive applications, including headlight lenses, interior trim, instrument panels, and exterior components. Its lightweight nature contributes to fuel efficiency.

Electronics and electrical industry

Polycarbonate is used in the manufacturing of electrical enclosures, connectors, insulators, and printed circuit boards due to its electrical insulation properties.

Construction and architecture

Polycarbonate is used in construction for applications such as skylights, roofing panels, windows, and protective barriers. Its transparency and impact resistance make it an attractive choice.

Consumer goods

Polycarbonate is used in various consumer products, including eyewear, water bottles, phone and tablet cases, kitchenware, and home appliances.

Medical devices

Polycarbonate is used in medical devices and equipment such as IV components, blood oxygenators, surgical instruments, and medical equipment housings.


The transparency and durability of polycarbonate make it a popular choice for greenhouse panels, protecting plants while allowing light transmission.

Aerospace industry

Polycarbonate is used in aircraft windows and canopies due to its lightweight nature and high impact resistance.

How much weight can polycarbonate hold?

The weight-bearing capacity of polycarbonate depends on various factors such as the thickness of the sheet, the specific grade of polycarbonate, the design of the structure, and the support system used. Polycarbonate has good strength and can support significant loads when used appropriately.

How to make polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate is typically produced through a polymerization process known as the “interfacial polymerization method.” Here’s a simplified overview of the steps involved:

1. Raw materials

The main raw materials for polycarbonate production are bisphenol A (BPA) and phosgene (COCl2).

2. Preparing the reactants

BPA and phosgene are first prepared separately. BPA is dissolved in a solvent, typically an aqueous alkaline solution, to form a BPA solution. Phosgene is also dissolved in a solvent, such as an organic solvent like chlorobenzene, to create a phosgene solution.

3. Polymerization

The polymerization process takes place in a reactor with two immiscible phases. The BPA solution and the phosgene solution are combined in the reactor. The BPA reacts with phosgene to form polycarbonate through a process called interfacial polymerization. This reaction occurs at the interface between the two phases.

4. Polymerization reaction

The reaction between BPA and phosgene results in the formation of polycarbonate chains. This reaction is typically catalyzed by a base, such as an alkali metal hydroxide. The reaction proceeds until the desired molecular weight of the polycarbonate is achieved.

5. Recovery and purification

Once the polymerization is complete, the polycarbonate is recovered from the reaction mixture. This involves separating the polycarbonate from the solvent and any unreacted monomers or byproducts. Purification processes, such as filtration or solvent extraction, may be employed to remove impurities and ensure the desired quality of the polycarbonate.

6. Forming and shaping

The purified polycarbonate can then be processed into various forms and shapes, such as sheets, films, or pellets, through techniques like extrusion, injection molding, or thermoforming. These forms can be further processed or used directly in different applications.

Which processing techniques are suitable for polycarbonate products?

Polycarbonate can be processed using various techniques, depending on the desired product and application. Some common processing techniques suitable for polycarbonate include:

Injection molding: Injection molding is a widely used technique for producing complex shapes and large quantities of polycarbonate products. Molten polycarbonate is injected into a mold cavity under high pressure and cooled to solidify into the desired shape.

Extrusion: Extrusion is commonly used to produce polycarbonate sheets, films, and profiles. The material is melted and forced through a die to create a continuous shape with a consistent cross-section. The extruded polycarbonate can be further processed or used as is.

Thermoforming: Thermoforming involves heating a polycarbonate sheet and then shaping it by stretching or forming it over a mold. The heated sheet is pressed against the mold to take its shape and cooled to retain the desired form. Thermoforming is suitable for creating products like packaging trays, automotive components, and signage.

Blow molding: Blow molding is used to produce hollow polycarbonate products such as bottles, containers, and automotive tanks. In this process, a parison (hollow tube) of molten polycarbonate is extruded and clamped into a mold. Compressed air is then used to inflate the parison, taking the shape of the mold cavity.

Vacuum forming: Vacuum forming is a process where a heated polycarbonate sheet is placed over a mold, and a vacuum is applied to draw the sheet onto the mold’s surface. This technique is commonly used for creating prototypes, packaging, and shallow products with simple shapes.

CNC machining: Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining can be employed to shape polycarbonate into precise and intricate forms. CNC machines use automated cutting tools to remove material from a solid block or sheet of polycarbonate according to programmed specifications.

Which is better polycarbonate or abs?

Polycarbonate (PC) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) are thermoplastic materials with distinct properties. Polycarbonate is known for its high impact resistance, transparency, temperature resistance, and chemical resistance, but it is generally more expensive. ABS offers good overall strength, processability, and surface finish, and is less expensive than polycarbonate.

What is the difference between plexiglass vs acrylic vs polycarbonate?

Plexiglass, acrylic, and polycarbonate are all transparent materials with similar visual properties, but they differ in terms of composition, characteristics, and applications.

Plexiglass: Plexiglass is a trade name for a specific type of acrylic, often referred to as “extruded acrylic.” It is made from polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and is known for its clarity, UV resistance, and scratch resistance. Plexiglass is commonly used for applications such as signage, displays, and protective barriers.

Acrylic: Acrylic, also known as “acrylic glass” or “polyacrylate,” is a transparent thermoplastic material made from PMMA. It offers excellent optical clarity, and weather resistance, and is available in various forms, including sheets, rods, and tubes. Acrylic is used in diverse applications such as windows, lighting fixtures, furniture, and art installations.

Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate is a transparent thermoplastic material known for its exceptional impact resistance and high strength. It is made from bisphenol A (BPA) and is highly durable, making it suitable for applications that require impact resistance, such as safety glasses, automotive components, and protective shields. Polycarbonate also offers good UV resistance and is commonly used in outdoor applications.

While plexiglass and acrylic are made from PMMA and share similar properties, polycarbonate stands out with its superior impact resistance. Plexiglass and acrylic are generally easier to scratch compared to polycarbonate, which has higher scratch resistance. Additionally, polycarbonate is more flexible than plexiglass and acrylic.

Which is better polycarbonate vs high index?

Polycarbonate and high-index are both materials used in the production of eyeglass lenses, but they have distinct characteristics.

Polycarbonate lenses are known for their impact resistance and UV protection, while high-index lenses are thinner and lighter, making them ideal for higher prescription powers. Polycarbonate lenses excel in durability and are suitable for safety applications, while high-index lenses offer enhanced cosmetic appeal.

The choice between polycarbonate and high-index lenses depends on individual needs and preferences, with polycarbonate being preferred for impact resistance and UV protection, and high-index lenses being favored for thinner and lighter lenses, particularly for higher prescription powers.

What is the difference between polypropylene and polycarbonate?

Polypropylene (PP) and polycarbonate (PC) are both thermoplastic materials, but they have different properties and applications. Polypropylene is often used for packaging components with high chemical resistance, while polycarbonate, on the other hand, is often used for durable equipment.

What is the difference between ABS and polycarbonate?

ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) and Polycarbonate (PC) are both thermoplastic materials with different properties. ABS is often used in automotive parts due to its good overall strength. Polycarbonate, on the other hand, is often used for automotive lens parts that are more impact-resistant.

What is the difference between polycarbonate and plastic?

Polycarbonate is a specific type of thermoplastic material, while “plastic” is a broad term that covers a variety of polymers. “Plastics” refers to the general category of synthetic materials that can be molded into various shapes. Polycarbonate can be considered a type of plastic, but not all plastics are polycarbonate.

What is the difference between polyvinyl chloride vs polycarbonate?

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polycarbonate (PC) are both thermoplastic materials, but they have different properties and applications. PVC is widely used for cost-effective parts, while polycarbonate is mainly used for durable parts.

What is the difference between polycarbonate and nylon?

Polycarbonate and nylon are both thermoplastic materials with different properties and applications. Polycarbonate is typically used for electrical components that require durability, while nylon is typically used for applications that require mechanical strength, such as gears, bearings, etc.


This article presents an introduction to the versatile material known as polycarbonate, providing a definition, exploring its properties, and highlighting its diverse applications. Additionally, we have addressed commonly asked questions to further enhance your knowledge of polycarbonates. Should you desire further information, please feel free to reach out to our team.

Polycarbonate is a versatile and high-performance polymer that finds extensive utility across multiple industries. By delving into the details of polycarbonate, we aspire to foster a deeper comprehension of this captivating material for you.

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Addressing Common Polycarbonate Questions:

Q1: Is polycarbonate plastic?
A1: Yes, polycarbonate is a type of thermoplastic material.

Q2: Is polycarbonate strong?
A2: Yes, polycarbonate is known for its strength and impact resistance.

Q3: Is polycarbonate toxic?
A3: No, polycarbonate is generally considered non-toxic.

Q4: Is polycarbonate recyclable?
A4: Yes, polycarbonate is recyclable and can be processed into new products.

Q5: Is polycarbonate bulletproof?
A5: Polycarbonate is highly impact-resistant, but it is not typically considered bulletproof on its own. It is often used in combination with other materials for ballistic protection.

Q6: Is polycarbonate flexible?
A6: Polycarbonate has some flexibility, but it is not as flexible as certain other plastics.

Q7: Is polycarbonate safe?
A7: Polycarbonate is considered safe for many applications. However, it is always important to follow proper handling and usage guidelines.

Q8: Is polycarbonate food safe?
A8: Yes, polycarbonate is commonly used in food contact applications and is considered food-safe.

Q9: Is polycarbonate scratch-resistant?
A9: Polycarbonate has good resistance to scratching, although it is not completely scratch-proof.

Q10: Is polycarbonate a thermoplastic?
A10: Yes, polycarbonate is a type of thermoplastic material that can be melted and reformed multiple times.

Q11: Is polycarbonate acrylic?
A11: No, polycarbonate and acrylic are different materials. Polycarbonate is a separate type of thermoplastic, while acrylic is another transparent thermoplastic material.

Q12: Is polycarbonate heat resistant?
A12: Yes, polycarbonate has good heat resistance and can withstand high temperatures.

Q13: Is polycarbonate flammable?
A13: Polycarbonate has a high ignition temperature and is considered self-extinguishing, meaning it is not highly flammable.

Q14: Are polycarbonate sheets flexible?
A14: Polycarbonate sheets have some flexibility, but their level of flexibility depends on the thickness and specific formulation of the material.

Q15: Does polycarbonate block UV?
A15: Yes, polycarbonate has inherent UV-blocking properties and can protect against harmful UV rays.

Q16: Is polycarbonate yellow?
A16: Over time, polycarbonate can experience yellowing due to exposure to UV light and certain environmental factors.

Q17: Does polycarbonate scratch?
A17: Polycarbonate can be scratched, but it has good scratch resistance compared to some other materials.

Q18: Does polycarbonate block UV light?
A18: Yes, polycarbonate can block UV light and provide UV protection.

Q19: Can you tint polycarbonate?
A19: Yes, polycarbonate can be tinted or colored to achieve desired aesthetics or light transmission properties.