Curing (chemistry)

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Curing is a chemical process employed in polymer chemistry and process engineering that produces the toughening or hardening of a polymer material by cross-linking of polymer chains. It is strongly associated with the production of thermosetting polymers. Curing can be effected by heat, radiation, electron beams, or chemical additives. Characteristically curing entails an increase in viscosity or hardness. [1]

Polymer chemistry is a sub-discipline of chemistry that focuses on the chemical synthesis, structure, chemical and physical properties of polymers and macromolecules. The principles and methods used within polymer chemistry are also applicable through a wide range of other chemistry sub-disciplines like organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, and physical chemistry Many materials have polymeric structures, from fully inorganic metals and ceramics to DNA and other biological molecules, however, polymer chemistry is typically referred to in the context of synthetic, organic compositions. Synthetic polymers are ubiquitous in commercial materials and products in everyday use, commonly referred to as plastics, and rubbers, and are major components of composite materials. Polymer chemistry can also be included in the broader fields of polymer science or even nanotechnology, both of which can be described as encompassing polymer physics and polymer engineering.

Process engineering is the understanding and application of the fundamental principles and laws of nature that allow us to transform raw material and energy into products that are useful to society, an industrial level. By taking advantage of the driving forces of nature such as pressure, temperature and concentration gradients, as well as the law of conservation of mass, process engineers can develop methods to synthesize and purify large quantities of desired chemical products. Process engineering focuses on the design, operation, control, optimization and intensification of chemical, physical, and biological processes. Process engineering encompasses a vast range of industries, such as agriculture, automotive, biotechnical, chemical, food, material development, mining, nuclear, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, and software development. The application of systematic computer-based methods to process engineering is "process systems engineering".

Cross-link chemical reaction

In chemistry and biology a cross-link is a bond that links one polymer chain to another. These links may take the form of covalent bonds or ionic bonds and the polymers can be either synthetic polymers or natural polymers.


Structure of a cured epoxy glue. The triamine hardener is shown in red, the resin in black. The resin's epoxide groups have reacted with the hardener. The material is highly crosslinked and contains many OH groups, which confer adhesive properties. VernetzteEpoxidharze.svg
Structure of a cured epoxy glue. The triamine hardener is shown in red, the resin in black. The resin's epoxide groups have reacted with the hardener. The material is highly crosslinked and contains many OH groups, which confer adhesive properties.

Curing is effected in many ways. To quote from IUPAC: curing "might or might not require mixing with a chemical curing agent." [2] Thus, two broad classes are (i) curing induced by chemical additives (also called curing agents, hardeners) and (ii) curing in the absence of additives. An intermediate case involves a mixture of resin and additives that requires external stimulus (light, heat, radiation) to induce curing.

The curing methodology depends on the resin and the application. Particular attention is paid to the shrinkage induced by the curing. Usually small values of shrinkage (2-3%) are desirable. [1]

Curing induced by additives

Epoxy resins are typically cured by the use of additives, often called hardeners. Polyamines are often used. The amine groups ring-open the epoxide rings.

In rubber, the curing is also induced by the addition of a crosslinker. The resulting process is called sulfur vulcanization. Sulfur breaks down to forms polysulfide cross-links (bridges) between sections of the polymer chains. The degree of crosslinking determines the rigidity and durability, as well as other mechanical and properties of the material. [3]

Sulfur vulcanization

Sulfur vulcanization or sulfur vulcanisation is a chemical process for converting natural rubber or related polymers into more durable materials by heating them with sulfur or other equivalent curatives or accelerators. Sulfur forms cross-links (bridges) between sections of polymer chain which results in increased rigidity and durability, as well as other changes in the mechanical and electronic properties of the material. A vast array of products are made with vulcanized rubber, including tires, shoe soles, hoses, and conveyor belts. The term vulcanization is derived from Vulcan, the Roman god of fire.

General representation of the chemical structure of vulcanized natural rubber showing the crosslinking of two polymer chains (blue and green) with sulfur (n = 0, 1, 2, 3 ...). Vulcanization of POLYIsoprene V.2.png
General representation of the chemical structure of vulcanized natural rubber showing the crosslinking of two polymer chains (blue and green) with sulfur (n = 0, 1, 2, 3 …).

Paints and varnishes commonly contain oil drying agents; metal soaps which catalyse cross-linking of the unsaturated oils of which they are largely comprised. As such, when paint is described as drying it is in fact hardening. Oxygen atoms serve the crosslinks, analogous to the role played by sulfur in the vulcanization of rubber.

An oil drying agent, also known as siccative, is a coordination compound that accelerates (catalyzes) the hardening of drying oils, often as they are used in oil-based paints. This so-called "drying" occurs through free-radical chemical crosslinking of the oils. The catalysts promote this free-radical autoxidation of the oils with air.

Simplified chemical reactions associated with curing of a drying oil. In the first step, the diene undergoes autoxidation to give a hydroperoxide. In the second step, the hydroperoxide combines with another unsaturated side chain to generate a crosslink. DryOilSteps.svg
Simplified chemical reactions associated with curing of a drying oil. In the first step, the diene undergoes autoxidation to give a hydroperoxide. In the second step, the hydroperoxide combines with another unsaturated side chain to generate a crosslink.

Curing without additives

In the case of concrete, curing entails the formation of silicate crosslinks. The process is not induced by additives.

Concrete Composite construction material

Concrete, usually Portland cement concrete, is a composite material composed of fine and coarse aggregate bonded together with a fluid cement that hardens over time—most frequently a lime-based cement binder, such as Portland cement, but sometimes with other hydraulic cements, such as a calcium aluminate cement. It is distinguished from other, non-cementitious types of concrete all binding some form of aggregate together, including asphalt concrete with a bitumen binder, which is frequently used for road surfaces, and polymer concretes that use polymers as a binder.

In many cases, the resin is provided as a solution or mixture with a thermally-activated catalyst, which induces crosslinking but only upon heating. For example, some acrylate-based resins are formulated with dibenzoyl peroxide. Upon heating the mixture, the peroxide converts to a free radical, which adds to an acrylate, initiating crosslinking.

Some organic resins are cured with heat. As heat is applied, the viscosity of the resin drops before the onset of crosslinking, whereupon it increases as the constituent oligomers interconnect. This process continues until a 3-dimensional network of oligomer chains is created – this stage is termed gelation. In terms of processability of the resin this marks an important stage: before gelation the system is relatively mobile, after it the mobility is very limited, the micro-structure of the resin and the composite material is fixed and severe diffusion limitations to further cure are created. Thus in order to achieve vitrification in the resin, it is usually necessary to increase the process temperature after gelation. Cure monitoring methods give a significant insight to the chemical process and define process actions towards achieving specific quality indices of the cured resin systems.

When catalysts are activated by ultraviolet radiation, the process is called UV cure. [5]

Related Research Articles

Vulcanization chemical process for converting natural rubber or related polymers into more durable materials

Vulcanization is a chemical process, invented by Charles Goodyear, used to harden rubber. Vulcanization traditionally referred to the treatment of natural rubber with sulfur and this remains the most common example, however the term has also grown to include the hardening of other (synthetic) rubbers via various means. Examples include silicone rubber via room temperature vulcanizing and chloroprene rubber (neoprene) using metal oxides.

Epoxy family of polymer

Epoxy is either any of the basic components or the cured end products of epoxy resins, as well as a colloquial name for the epoxide functional group. Epoxy resins, also known as polyepoxides, are a class of reactive prepolymers and polymers which contain epoxide groups. Epoxy resins may be reacted (cross-linked) either with themselves through catalytic homopolymerisation, or with a wide range of co-reactants including polyfunctional amines, acids, phenols, alcohols and thiols. These co-reactants are often referred to as hardeners or curatives, and the cross-linking reaction is commonly referred to as curing. Reaction of polyepoxides with themselves or with polyfunctional hardeners forms a thermosetting polymer, often with favorable mechanical properties and high thermal and chemical resistance. Epoxy has a wide range of applications, including metal coatings, use in electronics/electrical components/LEDs, high tension electrical insulators, paint brush manufacturing, fiber-reinforced plastic materials and structural adhesives. Epoxy is sometimes used as a glue.

Thermosetting polymer polymer material that irreversibly cures

A thermosetting polymer, resin, or plastic, often called a thermoset, is a polymer that is irreversibly hardened by curing from a soft solid or viscous liquid prepolymer or resin. Curing is induced by heat or suitable radiation and may be promoted by high pressure, or mixing with a catalyst. It results in chemical reactions that create extensive cross-linking between polymer chains to produce an infusible and insoluble polymer network.

Phenol formaldehyde resin chemical compound

Phenol formaldehyde resins (PF) or phenolic resins are synthetic polymers obtained by the reaction of phenol or substituted phenol with formaldehyde. Used as the basis for Bakelite, PFs were the first commercial synthetic resins (plastics). They have been widely used for the production of molded products including billiard balls, laboratory countertops, and as coatings and adhesives. They were at one time the primary material used for the production of circuit boards but have been largely replaced with epoxy resins and fiberglass cloth, as with fire-resistant FR-4 circuit board materials.

Accelerants are substances that can bond, mix or disturb another substance and cause an increase in the speed of a natural, or artificial chemical process. Accelerants play a major role in chemistry—most chemical reactions can be hastened with an accelerant. Accelerants alter a chemical bond, speed up a chemical process, or bring organisms back to homeostasis. Accelerants are not necessarily catalysts as they may be consumed by the process.

Vinyl ester resin, or often just vinyl ester, is a resin produced by the esterification of an epoxy resin with acrylic or methacrylic acids. The "vinyl" groups refer to these ester substituents, which are prone to polymerize. The diester product is then dissolved in a reactive solvent, such as styrene, to approximately 35–45 percent content by weight. Polymerization is initiated by free radicals, which are generated by UV-irradiation or peroxides.

Silicone rubber is an elastomer composed of silicone—itself a polymer—containing silicon together with carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Silicone rubbers are widely used in industry, and there are multiple formulations. Silicone rubbers are often one- or two-part polymers, and may contain fillers to improve properties or reduce cost. Silicone rubber is generally non-reactive, stable, and resistant to extreme environments and temperatures from -67 °F to 572 °F while still maintaining its useful properties. Due to these properties and its ease of manufacturing and shaping, silicone rubber can be found in a wide variety of products, including: voltage line insulators, automotive applications; cooking, baking, and food storage products; apparel such as undergarments, sportswear, and footwear; electronics; medical devices and implants; and in home repair and hardware with products such as silicone sealants.

Acrylate polymers are a group of polymers noted for their transparency, resistance to breakage, and elasticity. They are also commonly known as acrylics or polyacrylates. Acrylate polymer is commonly used in cosmetics such as nail polish as an adhesive.


A photopolymer or light-activated resin is a polymer that changes its properties when exposed to light, often in the ultraviolet or visible region of the electromagnetic spectrum. These changes are often manifested structurally, for example hardening of the material occurs as a result of cross-linking when exposed to light. An example is shown below depicting a mixture of monomers, oligomers, and photoinitiators that conform into a hardened polymeric material through a process called curing. A wide variety of technologically useful applications rely on photopolymers, for example some enamels and varnishes depend on photopolymer formulation for proper hardening upon exposure to light. In some instances, an enamel can cure in a fraction of a second when exposed to light, as opposed to thermally cured enamels which can require half an hour or longer. Curable materials are widely used for medical, printing, and photoresist technologies.

Synthetic resins are industrially produced resins, typically viscous substances that convert into rigid polymers by the process of curing. In order to undergo curing, resins typically contain reactive end groups, such as acrylates or epoxides. Some synthetic resins have properties similar to natural plant resins, but many do not.

Polyester resins are unsaturated synthetic resins formed by the reaction of dibasic organic acids and polyhydric alcohols. Maleic Anhydride is a commonly used raw material with diacid functionality. Polyester resins are used in sheet moulding compound, bulk moulding compound and the toner of laser printers. Wall panels fabricated from polyester resins reinforced with fiberglass—so-called fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP)—are typically used in restaurants, kitchens, restrooms and other areas that require washable low-maintenance walls. They are also used extensively in cured-in-place pipe applications. Departments of Transportation in the USA also specify them for use as overlays on roads and bridges. In this application they are known as PCO Polyester Concrete Overlays. These are usually based on isophthalic acid and cut with styrene at high levels—usually up to 50%. Polyesters are also used in anchor bolt adhesives though epoxy based materials are also used. Many companies have and continue to introduce styrene free systems mainly due to odor issues.

Rubber Technology is the subject dealing with the transformation of rubbers or elastomers into useful products, such as automobile tires, rubber mats and, exercise rubber stretching bands. The materials includes latex, natural rubber, synthetic rubber and other polymeric materials, such as thermoplastic elastomers. Rubber processed through such methods are components of a wide range of items.

Polymer engineering is generally an engineering field that designs, analyses, and modifies polymer materials. Polymer engineering covers aspects of the petrochemical industry, polymerization, structure and characterization of polymers, properties of polymers, compounding and processing of polymers and description of major polymers, structure property relations and applications.

A thermoset polymer matrix is a synthetic polymer reinforcement first developed for structural applications, such as glass-reinforced plastic radar domes on aircraft and graphite-epoxy payload bay doors on the space shuttle. In polymer matrix composites, polymers act as binder or matrix to secure in place incorporated particulates, fibres or other reinforcements.

Resin casting is a method of plastic casting where a mold is filled with a liquid synthetic resin, which then hardens. It is primarily used for small-scale production like industrial prototypes and dentistry. It can be done by amateur hobbyists with little initial investment, and is used in the production of collectible toys, models and figures, as well as small-scale jewellery production.

RTV Silicone is a type of silicone rubber made from a two-component system available in a hardness range of very soft to medium--usually from 15 to 40 Shore A. RTV silicones can be cured with a catalyst consisting of either platinum or a tin compound such as dibutyltin dilaurate. Applications include low-temperature over-molding, making molds for reproducing, and lens applications for some optically clear grades.

In polymer chemistry, materials science, and food science, bloom refers to the migration of one component of a solid mixture to the surface of an article. The process is an example of phase separation or phase aggregation.


  1. 1 2 Pham, Ha Q.; Marks, Maurice J. (2012), "Epoxy Resins", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry , Weinheim: Wiley-VCH, doi:10.1002/14356007.a09_547.pub2
  2. "curing". IUPAC Goldbook.
  3. James E. Mark, Burak Erman (eds.) (2005). Science and technology of rubber. p. 768. ISBN   978-0-12-464786-2.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  4. Ulrich Poth (2002), "Drying Oils and Related Products", Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry , Weinheim: Wiley-VCH, doi:10.1002/14356007.a09_055 CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  5. Gregory T. Carroll, Nicholas J. Turro and Jeffrey T. Koberstein (2010) Patterning Dewetting in Thin Polymer Films by Spatially Directed Photocrosslinking Journal of Colloid and Interface Science, Vol. 351, pp 556-560 doi : 10.1016/j.jcis.2010.07.070