Have you ever plugged something with a plastic coating into a wall outlet and questioned why you never felt any electric current? You may have also wondered why so many of your electrical devices seem to be coated with plastic. Is there a relationship between electricity and plastics? Or does plastic conduct electricity?
That is a crucial question because many things you use in your home are powered by electricity. This article will explain if plastic is an electrical conductor or insulator. You also learn the difference between an insulator and a conductor. We tell you if plastic conducts electricity or prevents humans from electric shocks. Finally, we give good examples of good and bad electrical conductors.
Is Plastic a Conductor of Electricity?
Plastic is not a conductor of electricity. Free electrons must travel around in material for an electric current to flow through it. Electrons and ions are absent from plastics. Most plastics contain organic polymers. Organic polymers are formed by carbon atoms, or carbon atoms, in addition to nitrogen, sulfur, and oxygen.
Since plastic is organic, electrical conduction cannot occur since it lacks an ionic element. The joining of many monomers forms the basis for the development of polymers. No room is left for an electric current to pass due to how the monomers connect.
Conductor vs Insulator: What’s The Difference?
The capacity of a material to allow the flow of electric current is the main difference between a conductor and an insulator. A material that allows electric current to flow through is called a conductor. A substance that does not readily conduct an electric current is known as an insulator.
You can see the crucial differences between conductors and insulators in the table below:
|1||Electric charge can move more freely.||The electric charge does not move easily.|
|2||Electric field exists on the surface and inside the material.||Electric fields do not exist on the surface and inside the material.|
|3||Conductors store energy.||Insulators don’t store energy.|
|4||Their resistivity can vary from low to high.||They have a high resistivity.|
|5||Conductors show high conductivity and low resistance.||They show minimal conductivity and very high resistance.|
|6||Their covalent bonds are weak.||Their covalent bonds are strong.|
|7||The valence band is almost empty, and the conduction band is full of electrons.||The conduction band is almost empty, and the valence band is full of electrons.|
Is Plastic a Conductor or Insulator?
Plastics are insulators. They prevent free electron passage, which in turn prevents the flow of electric current. Plastics have atoms that are closely bonded to one another. It then becomes hard, if not impossible, for electrons to flow from one atom to the other. An insulator is anything that prevents the flow of electric current.
Since plastic has a low conductivity, minimal current can flow through it. The atoms in plastic have a powerful covalent bond. The exchange of one or more pairs of electrons between two atoms forms a covalent connection. The pairs are referred to as sharing or bonding pairs. Covalent bonding is the sharing of electrons.
Why Does Plastic Not Conduct Electricity?
Several factors make plastics not conduct electricity. Let us look at a few of these factors:
- High resistivity level
A material’s resistance to an electrical current flowing through it is measured by its resistivity. Ohm-meters (Ωm) is used to measure electrical resistance. Electrical resistivity in insulators is high, with values in the range of.
Here are the resistivity levels of several plastics:
- ASA/PC flame retardant – 14 1015 Ohm.cm
- ABS/PC blend 20% glass fiber- 16 1015 Ohm.cm
- CA Cellulose Acetate- 12 1015 Ohm.cm
- ABS high heat- 16 1015 Ohm.cm1
The plastics molecules are linked together so that the atoms’ electrons are completely occupied. As a result, plastics lack free electrons that can move around and conduct an electric current.
- Low Thermal Conductivity
Thermal conductivity is typically low for all insulators. It means that insulators make it difficult for heat to travel through them. Electric current cannot easily travel through plastic because the electrons there are static and not roaming. Plastics concentrate the flow and guard against current loss.
- Breakdown voltage:
Because of breakdown voltage or dielectric-strength, plastics do not conduct electricity. If exposed to excessively high voltages, all insulators will conduct electricity. Materials like plastics lose their insulating properties at high voltages. The breakdown voltage is the voltage at which this transformation takes place. Different levels of breakdown voltages exist for insulators.
It is for this reason that plastics won’t be used in industries. They will instead be mostly used as insulators in homes with low voltage.
Does Plastic Conduct Heat?
Due to the lack of free electrons available for thermal conduction, plastics are poor heat/electrical conductors. Heat is transferred through thermal conduction when one portion of a material body comes into touch with another. Plastics don’t have any free electrons in contrast to their metal counterparts. The plastic molecules are tightly compressed, increasing their density.
When there is a high density, there is no room for atoms to move about and cause vibrations, producing heat. Density measures the mass per unit volume. Temperature and moisture will also have an impact on the thermal conductivity of plastics.
Can Plastic Prevent Electric Shock?
Yes, plastic being a bad insulator can prevent electric shock. Electricity has a dangerous energy level that can shock and kill. Most electrical cables are coated with plastic or rubber to prevent electrical shock. When electrical wires are covered in plastic, you can be sure that the electrons moving through them won’t pass through your body when you contact them.
Plastics are primarily suitable for electrical wire insulation due to their flexibility and ease of bending around curves. They also burn slowly and effectively release heat.
When someone comes into contact with a voltage difference, they can get an electric shock. Consider a situation where a person stands on ground that has zero voltage. If they come into contact with a conductor in a faulty electrical circuit, the electric current will flow through.
But it’s crucial to remember that electric current, not voltage, is what shocks you. Your body can experience a shock with just 1 mA (1/1000th of an Amp) of electrical electricity. More of this at this rate will cause your muscles to contract uncontrollably. You will be unable to release the electrical conductor in this situation. Above 100 mA, death occurs.
The plastic covering on a wire prevents the transfer of electrical current when you touch it. Standing in a plastic bucket will shield you from any potential shock by preventing the connection to the ground. Don’t hold onto someone who is being electrocuted, though, if you see them. They’ll probably pass the electrical current to you.
Examples of Good and Bad Conductors of Electricity
Our lives depend heavily on electricity, which can be very deadly if not handled properly. It is essential to know which materials are good conductors of electricity and which are not.
Good Conductors of Electricity
Materials that permit electricity to flow readily are considered good conductors of electricity. These materials provide low flow resistance. Highlighted below are four good conductors of electricity.
- Ionic conductors: Ionic conductors, like salt water, are conductors in solution form.
- Metals: The majority of metals are good conductors because they have a large number of free electrons and free mobility. The metals include copper, silver, aluminum, and gold, to name a few. The conductivity of a metal increases with the number of free electrons present.
- Semi-conductors: Semi-conductors still have their uses even though they are not very good at conducting electricity. Semi-conductors include materials like germanium (Ge) and silicon (Si).
- Non-Metals: Certain non-metals function well as electrical conductors. We have carbon in the form of Graphite. Only three of the four carbon atoms in the graphite structure are used for bonding, leaving one atom free.
Bad Conductors of Electricity
Materials that act as insulators prevent electricity from passing through. Strong insulators are usually used to coat or provide a barrier between conductors to keep electric currents under control. Highlighted are materials that are poor conductors of electricity.
- Pure water: There are no charged ions or electrons in pure water. The said ions or electrons must be free to move. While pure water molecules may be free-flowing, they are not charged.
- Plastic: We have already seen that plastics don’t have charged ions or electrons but are organic polymers. Polymers consist of a long chain of monomers that are rigid.
- Glass: Due to its strong chemical bonding, glass does not conduct electricity in its normal state. Because of this, x-ray tubes and light bulbs are made from them.
- Rubber: The long, chain-like polymer structure of rubber restricts the free movement of electrons. The valence shell’s strong electron bonds restrict the flow of electric current.
- Oil: Electric current cannot be conducted by charge carriers found in the oil. Long hydrocarbon chains in the oil prevent ionic molecules from dissolving in it. There are no ions present because there is no ionization.
Because of their organic polymers, plastics are poor electrical conductors. Free electrons or charged ions are required for an electric current to flow through a medium. You can see why plastics are insulators by the differences between conductors and insulators that we have highlighted. Plastics are poor heat conductors due to the same properties.
Why plastic does not conduct electricity? ›
The electric charges are carried by free electrons. Electric charges cannot be carried if there are no free electrons, hence there is no electricity conduction. As, plastics have few or no free electrons since their molecules are formed up of lengthy chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms.
Usually plastics are excellent electrical insulators. They do not conduct electricity. However, they can be made to conduct electricity by mixing them with a material that is a good conductor. This material is called a conducting filler.Is plastic a good conductor of electricity yes or no? ›
The correct option is B False.Why is plastic good for electricity? ›
Plastic conducts neither heat nor electricity, making it well-suited to electrical applications.Can plastic give electric shock? ›
Electric current cannot easily travel through plastic because the electrons there are static and not roaming.Is plastic a conductor or insulator? ›
Plastics are excellent insulators, meaning they can efficiently trap heat — a quality that can be an advantage in something like a coffee cup sleeve.Is plastic a good conductor of heat and electricity? ›
Plastics are usually a bad conductor of heat and electricity which means that it cannot conduct electricity or heat when passed through it.Is plastic a better conductor than metal? ›
Metals generally exhibit high thermal conductivities and are much quicker to respond to a change in their surrounding environment's temperature compared to plastics or foams. Plastic is classified as an insulator and is extremely slow to respond to a change in the surrounding temperature.Does plastic produce energy? ›
It's possible to convert all plastics directly into useful forms of energy and chemicals for industry, using a process called “cold plasma pyrolysis”. Pyrolysis is a method of heating, which decomposes organic materials at temperatures between 400C and 650C, in an environment with limited oxygen.Can plastic touch electrical wires? ›
Rubbers and plastic are used to cover electric wires because they are insulators and do not allow electric current to pass when we touch those wires. Was this answer helpful?
Is plastic bad conductor of heat and electricity True or false? ›
Plastics do not conduct electricity and are, therefore, bad conductors of electricity.Is plastic the best conductor known today? ›
Plastic is the best conductor known today. True 11.) A magnet's magnetic field is what pulls it to connect to metal.Is plastic a better conductor than glass? ›
The thermal conductivity of plastic is less than that of glass, but the wall thickness of the plastic bottle is also less, resulting in similar thermal properties (and Biot numbers) for the plastic and glass bottles.Is plastic a good conductor of fire? ›
(c) Plastics are poor conductors: - Plastics are poor conductors of heat and electricity that is why they are used in making handles of frying pans, cookers and plastic covering on electrical wires.What energy is plastic made from? ›
Plastics are produced from natural gas, feedstocks derived from natural gas processing, and feedstocks derived from crude oil refining.Does plastic heat the earth? ›
It's made to last - and it does, often for 400 years or more. And at every step in its lifecycle, even long after it has been discarded, plastic creates greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to the warming of our world.Why are plastics negatively charged? ›
Since the plastic has more electrons than protons, it has a negative charge. Since their fingers gave up some electrons, their skin now has more protons than electrons so it has a positive charge. The positive skin and the negative plastic attract each other because positive and negative attract.Why is plastic an insulator of electricity? ›
Explanation: They don't have free electrons moving around (delocalised electrons) so they can't conduct heat and electricity which gives them a property of good insulators.Why can't we burn plastic for energy? ›
Burning plastic waste also releases a range of toxic gases, heavy metals, and particles into the air. These can be bad for our health. Dioxins are just one of the many harmful emissions from incinerators. They are highly toxic and can cause cancer and damage to the immune system.Is plastic a bad conductor or insulator? ›
Plastics do not conduct electricity and are, therefore, bad conductors of electricity.
Does plastic lose electrons easily? ›
Some objects tend to lose electrons easily, while others tend to gain them more easily. Wool is a material which will give up electrons rather easily, and plastic will gain these lost electrons.What charge is plastic? ›
Plastic comes below fur in the frictional series of electric charges. So, fur will get positive charge and plastic rod will get the negative charge.Does plastic carry a charge? ›
Static charge occurs when electrons build up on an object. Static charge: can only build up on objects which are insulators , eg plastic or wood.Is plastic a good electrical insulator? ›
Plastics are good electrical insulators (such as phenolic, Ultem®, PEEK). There are dozens of polymers to choose from that offer high dielectric strength and excellent fire resistance.Is plastic electric proof? ›
Plastics do not conduct electricity and are therefore used in a variety of applications where their insulating properties are needed. PVC is widely used to insulate electric wiring, while thermosets (which can withstand high temperatures) are used for switches, light fittings and handles.Can plastic actually help to save energy? ›
1) Efficient Insulation: In homes and buildings around the world, plastics have provided excellent insulation from heat and cold. They also help in preventing air leakages. Plastic insulation emits 9% fewer greenhouse gases compared to other alternative materials. They also consume 16% less energy.Can you turn plastic into energy? ›
It's possible to convert all plastics directly into useful forms of energy and chemicals for industry, using a process called “cold plasma pyrolysis”. Pyrolysis is a method of heating, which decomposes organic materials at temperatures between 400C and 650C, in an environment with limited oxygen.What happens if you burn plastic? ›
Impacts of Smoke from Burning Trash and Plastic
Burning plastic and treated wood also releases heavy metals and toxic chemicals, such as dioxin. Other chemicals released while burning plastic include benzo(a)pyrene (BAP) and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have both been shown to cause cancer.
This is counterintuitive (for many students) because metals feel cold while plastics feel warm. Energy is transferred to the ice cubes by conduction from the blocks on which they have been placed. A metal block is a better conductor and so energy is transferred more quickly to that ice cube.