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Original Article

Effect of UV exposure on bimodal HDPE floats for


floating solar application

Alok K. Sahu a , Kumarasamy Sudhakar b,c,∗


a Central Institute of Plastic Engineering &Technology, Bhopal, M.P., India
b Energy Centre, Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology, Bhopal, M.P., India
c Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, Universiti Malaysia Pahang, 26600 Pahang, Malaysia

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Keeping in view the conservation of natural resources, the power generation from the solar
Received 25 December 2016 photovoltaic system is increasing day by day to meet the demand of energy worldwide.
Accepted 12 October 2017 There are constraints of availability of space for ground mounted solar PV system for large
Available online xxx installations. In some countries water bodies are being utilized to install solar PV system to
reduce land use. Few floating systems using plastics have been developed to install a solar
Keywords: panel on it. After extensive literature studies on properties of polyolefins, High-density poly
Floating system ethylene (HDPE) is found to be better material for this purpose.
Biomodal In order to measure its sustainability, annotation of mechanical properties using bimodal
HDPE material poly ethylene under accelerated weathering condition has been carried out in different
Mechanical properties intervals till 1152 h, to perceive the lifespan of HDPE material. The change in its mechan-
ical properties like tensile strength, elongation at break, maximum load bearing capacity,
impact resistance and hardness were evaluated. It was observed that the tensile strength
was reduced from 23.22 MPa to 14.64 MPa after accelerated UV exposure. It was observed that
after 1000 h of exposure to accelerated weathering the material still has the tendency to hold
a constant load of 637.81 N without rupture, compared to non-weathered sample (955.16 N).
The elongation at break was reduced but elongation of 6.24% was maintained after 1152 h
of accelerated exposure, which depicts the elasticity of the material, is still maintained. The
impact resistance did not show a significant change during this period, the value varies in
the range of 13.54–10.06 kJ/m2 . However, the hardness was increased from 61 to 66 (Shore D)
due to deterioration of low molecular weight polymer present in bimodal PE. It is concluded
that the mechanical properties of Biomodal HDPE material after accelerated UV exposure
does not have much effect and is safe to bear the load of solar panels and other accessories
mounted over it. Further studies can be done using UV stabilized biomodal HDPE.
© 2017 Brazilian Metallurgical, Materials and Mining Association. Published by Elsevier
Editora Ltda. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://
creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).


Corresponding author.
E-mail: sudhakar@ump.edu.my (K. Sudhakar).
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmrt.2017.10.002
2238-7854/© 2017 Brazilian Metallurgical, Materials and Mining Association. Published by Elsevier Editora Ltda. This is an open access
article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

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1.1. Properties and structure of high-density


1. Introduction polyethylene (HDPE)

The use of polyolefins, has increased significantly in recent


Bimodal HDPE possesses highly regular arrangement of
decades and is very attractive materials due to their low cost,
un-branched chains along with the copolymer of desired
good mechanical properties, light weight, durability and ver-
branched structure to maintain the impact strength along
satility than other materials [1]. However, it is a fact that
with the load bearing characteristic. Normally, these resins are
polyolefins are polluters of the environment because of their
produced using two polymerization reactors in series (LMW
non degradability [2] but conversely they are needed at some
and HMW), each operated under separate process conditions.
places for their durability and long life span. Many studies
This process allows all of the comonomer to be incorporated
regarding the durability of polyolefins in the natural environ-
into the high molecular weight fraction, where it is most
mental condition have been reported in the literature. Among
needed to influence properties. The result of this technology
the polyolefins, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) has gov-
is a substantial leap in physical properties at a given resin
erned a dominating position because of the many excellent
density.
properties, cost and ease of fabrication and modifications to
Fig. 1 shows a comparison between the structures of
enhance the mechanical properties. Due to this it is being
LDPE (low-density polyethylene), bimodal HDPE (high-density
used in many applications such as automobiles, household
polyethylene), and LLDPE (linear low-density polyethylene).
goods, etc., and now particularly for the use of pontoons
Bimodal high-density polyethylene (HDPE) consist of LMW
or floating blocks for the support structures of solar panel
and HMW species in the polymeric chain, which results
array.
in improved performance equals longer service life and
Generally, for floating applications, the buoyant force
increased confidence that the blow molded container will
will be stronger for less dense material. High-density
maintain its integrity through even the most demanding
(HDPE) material is slightly less dense than water. It’s
of environments. This broad range of polymer chain sizes
resistant to most typical chemicals, so probably low-
includes both smaller molecules, which affect processability
density type (LDPE) may also be suitable for water
(e.g., extrusion flow rates), and much larger molecules, which
application.
influence physical properties such as top load strength, envi-
High-density poly ethylene (HDPE), due to their lower
ronmental stress crack resistance (e.g., ESCR) and drop impact
density than water, has been widely used as a suppor-
strength.
ting platform for the arrangement of solar panels over
Density (or crystallinity) is a critical attribute for PE blow
the surface of water bodies [1,2]. Degradation of suppor-
molding resins. For a given polyethylene material, reduc-
ting blocks under water bodies is almost accompanied
ing density improves many important physical properties
by the change in the chemical composition of a polymer
related to ductility (or lack of brittleness), such as ESCR and
with time due to the effects of heat, light or mechanical
impact strength. Density is controlled by the incorporation of
stress.
comonomers into the polymer at relatively small levels during
HDPE floats can undergo degradation in different ways
polymerization. Some of the important mechanical properties
depending on the environment. All polymers degrade in
of a bimodal HDPE material are given in Table 1.
the outdoor environment due to the initiating effects of
impurities introduced during the manufacturing operations.
1.2. Objective of the study
The rate at which they vary mainly depends on their chemical
structure [3].
Bimodal HDPE plastic material is considered for floating
Polymer components normally fail either by bad engineer-
solar installations as these floats will be under the influ-
ing design or bad materials design or a combination of both [3].
ence of ultra-violet radiations. Although many parameters are
Therefore, the composition of polymeric materials is impor-
important, density strength, ductility, modulus and corrosion
tant for determining its durability.
resistance are considered as primary factors for water applica-
Mendes has studied Mechanical, thermal and microstruc-
tions. Keeping in mind the above constrains of the unstabilized
ture evaluation of HDPE after weathering and concluded
HDPE material, bimodal HDPE is used in the present work
that non-stabilized HDPE material is mechanically dead after
2500 h of UV exposure [4]. Enhanced bimodal PE LDPE LLDPE m-LLDPE
The variations and changes in structure and mechanical
properties of compression molded samples of commercial
HDPE were reported by Carrasco et al. [5] when subjected
to natural aging during a Canadian winter. They considered
that there is a drastic decrease in impact energy of HDPE
due to the loss of crystallinity and thermal fatigue. Gonzalez
et al. [6] have reported the effect of mineral filler on photo-
oxidation of HDPE in a UV-weathering chamber. They observed
that the degradation follows a free radical chain mechanism
and CaCO3 slows the carbonyl and hydroperoxide functional
group formation acting as a protective barrier for UV light
penetration. Fig. 1 – Structure of different types of polyethylene [7].

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Table 1 – Different principle properties of bimodal HDPE Table 2 – Different mechanical properties of selected
material [8–10]. bimodal HDPE material [12].
Properties Values Sr. no. Properties Unit Value

Density (g/cm3 ) 0.941–0.965 1 Tensile strength MPa 28


Degree of crystallanity (%) 80–95 2 Elongation at break % >600
Flexural modulus (MPa @ 73 F) 31–1551 3 Flexural modulus MPa 850
Tensile modulus (MPa) 413–1034 4 Notched Izod impact strength @ 23 ◦ C J/m 300
Tensile yield stress (MPa) 18–31 5 Hardness Shore D 60
Tensile strength at break (MPa) 22–31
Tensile elongation at break (%) 20–130
Shore hardness type D 66–73 minutes elapse before all the powder ceases to flow freely.
Izod impact strength (ft-lb/in. of notch) 0.8–14 Heating and rotation are continued until the molten resin
flows under its own weight to form a void-free coating on the
interior of the mold. Rotation is maintained while the mold
to study the properties for such applications. In this work,
is cooled with sprays of cold water or by fan-blown air. Once
the effect of the accelerated UV radiations on bimodal HDPE
the polyethylene has solidified, the two halves of the mold are
floats was studied by evaluating the mechanical properties like
unbolted and the molding is removed. Cycle times are quite
tensile strength, elongation, and impact strength, hardness
long, the time required for heating and cooling increasing with
before and after accelerated UV exposure in the different time
wall thickness. The minor residual stresses are found to arise
interval. Bimodal HDPE samples before and after accelerated
from quenching effects. The outer skin layer is cooled more
UV weathering (conditioned in UV weatherometer at the inter-
rapidly than the interior, resulting in a slight density gradi-
vals of 168, 360, 504, and 1152 h) were studied and properties
ent, with the density increasing toward the inner surface. This
were evaluated. Also, the load-bearing capacity of the material
imparts a small degree of internal stress that can result in
was observed to sustain in the given loading condition.
warpage if not controlled. The final HDPE Floats obtained from
rotational molding process is shown in Fig. 2.
2. Experimental
2.2. Sample preparation
2.1. Manufacturing process of HDPE floats by
rotational molding The test specimens are made from the same material which is
used to manufacture floats, i.e., HDPE 010DP45U [8] grade vir-
A bimodal, natural, HDPE 010DP45U [8] grade virgin material gin material. The various mechanical properties of this grade
manufactured by Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) is cho- of material are given in Table 2.
sen for manufacturing floats in the form of cubical blocks. The The test specimen (Fig. 3) was prepared by injection mold-
blocks were manufactured by roto molding process. Rotational ing process for measuring different mechanical properties as
molding is a four-step process: loading the mold with resin, per international standard (ASTM) shown in Table 3 [13].
rotating and heating the mold, rotating and cooling the mold,
and finally, removal of the product. A predetermined weight of 2.3. Conditioning of samples by UV weathering
polyethylene powder is loaded into a cold mold, which is then
closed. The mold is then transferred to an oven, where it is An accelerated UV test provides an alternative and gener-
rotated and heated. A temperature in excess is not more than ally much more rapid means of measuring the effects of UV
250 ◦ C are commonly used [11]. Rotation typically takes place radiation on polymers under consistent and reproducible con-
about two mutually perpendicular axes, which distributes the ditions. The UV light is generally provided by xenon arc lamps
polymer powder over the interior surface. As the mold heats and some modern UV exposure cabinet provides a very rapid
up, the resin begins to melt and adhere to its interior. Several assessment of polymeric materials and correlate well with

Fig. 2 – HDPE floats made by rotational molding process.

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Sample for tensile properties

Sample for impact strength

Sample for hardness testing

Fig. 3 – Different samples for evaluating mechanical properties.

environmental exposure. Any elements of the environment


Table 3 – Different properties with their test methods.
can be incorporated into a ‘weatherometer’. For example,
Test properties Test method
condensation and relative humidity may be varied and an
alternating water spray can be incorporated to simulate rain. Tensile strength ASTM D 638
Sufficient numbers of molded HDPE samples were conditioned Elongation at break ASTM D 638
in UV Weathering Chamber (Q Lab, USA make, model no. Notched Izod impact strength ASTM D 256
Hardness ASTM D 2240
QUV/SE/240) (Fig. 4).
The materials were exposed to the action of weathering
(Accelerated UV exposure Fig. 8) in agreement with ASTM G values of 5 specimens were taken and average values were
154 [14]. This instrument has eight UVA-340 lamps of 40 W reported.
each, providing 8 h cycle for the irradiance of 0.73 W/m2 at
340 nm wavelength with an incident radiation beam at an 2.4.2.1. Hardness. The hardness of samples before and after
angle of 24◦ and the black panel temperature of 60 (±3) ◦ C. aging was tested in a Shore D-Durometer (MICROTEST make,
After irradiance cycle 4 h condensation cycle at 50 (±3) ◦ C is Model: 1993). The test was conducted according to ASTM D
maintained. 2240 [17] at a temperature of 23 ± 2 ◦ C and relative humidity
of 50 ± 5%. The values of 5 specimens were taken and average
values were reported.
2.4. Evaluation of mechanical properties

2.4.1. Tensile strength, maximum load and elongation at 3. Results and discussion
break
The tensile strength and elongation at break (%) of weath- 3.1. Analysis of mechanical properties
ered HDPE samples were determined using Universal Testing
Machine (Instron, USA make, Model: 3382K6825, 100 kN capac- When plastics are degraded with UV radiations (exposure), its
ity). The test was conducted according to ASTM D 638 [15] at a physical properties are affected. The original properties, i.e.,
speed of 100 mm/min, a gauge length of 115 mm at a tempera- properties before UV exposure and properties after UV expo-
ture of 23 ± 2 ◦ C and relative humidity of 50 ± 5%. The values of sures in different intervals were measured and compared.
5 specimens were taken and the average values were reported.
3.1.1. Tensile strength analysis
Tensile strength is an important property for analysis of
2.4.2. Impact strength product in terms of its mechanical strength. Uniaxial tensile
The Izod impact test (notched) was conducted in an tests were conducted to investigate the effect of UV on the
Impact testing machine (Tinius Oslen, USA make, Model- stress–strain behavior of bimodal HDPE. Figs. 5 and 6 presents
IT 504). The test was conducted according to ASTM D the stress–strain curves of the HDPE samples before and
256 [16] using hammer energy of 24.838 J at a temper- after UV exposure. Before the weathering conditions and after
ature of 23 ± 2 ◦ C and relative humidity of 50 ± 5%. The accelerated weathering (UV radiation) in different intervals of

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Fig. 4 – Specimens placed for aging in QUV weathermometer.

time of HDPE samples, the variation in tensile strength have HDPE, the values of tensile stress and modulus of elasticity
been reported and shown in Fig. 7. The stress–strain behav- are practically constant.
ior depends strongly on strain rate and strain. The average
modulus of elasticity before and after UV exposure is around 3.1.4. Elongation at break analysis
685 MPa and 607 MPa respectively. A little decrease in the ten- Several authors have shown elongation at break value can
sile strength values was observed during weathering condition be a good measure to monitor the aging of polymers
in the early stages and then the deterioration is more & finally [8,18,19]. During the initial stage of exposure, the value of
the value of 14.64 MPa is recorded after 1152 h of accelerated elongation at break drops up to 60% of the initial value
UV condition. and then a continuous drop in this value is noted until
it reaches value to a minimum or constant. This type of
behavior can be explained because of the obvious reason
3.1.2. Maximum load bearing capacity
that the parental chain of HDPE separates or there is a
The maximum load bearing capacity of the samples are
division in the main chain that causes a decrease in the
also reported and the variation is shown in Fig. 8. This is
molecular weight of the material. Due to long exposure
one of the most important properties to be analyzed as the
brittleness occurs and the sample loses this property. The vari-
HDPE material used in cubical blocks are being used for
ations of the elongation at break percentage values for the
supporting structure of the different shape and size solar pan-
HDPE specimen before & after weathering are presented in
els in water bodies. From the above figure it was observed
Fig. 10.
that the maximum load bearing capacity before UV radia-
Primarily, the chain was long and the molecules were
tion is nearly constant and decreases gradually in case of
entangled with weak Vander Waal forces to each other and
weathering as the exposure time increases. It was observed
the movement of entire molecules is associated with the vis-
that after 1000 h of exposure to accelerated weathering the
cous flow. This is obviously depending upon the number of
material still has the tendency to hold a constant load of
entanglements but at the time of steep drop in elongation at
637.81 N without rupture, compared to non-weathered sam-
break, these entanglements of the molecules get reduced or
ple (955.16 N). The material may fragile but do not break in this
breakdown occurs because of the chemical changes like the
region.
formation of carbonyl groups that reduces the entanglements
[2].
3.1.3. Elastic modulus analysis
The variation in elastic modulus is shown in Fig. 9 for UV sta- 3.2. Impact resistance analysis
bilized grade of HDPE that is nearly unchangeable. The value
varies in the range of 500–750 MPa showed a good sign of elas- The impact resistance of the samples before and after UV
ticity. The reduction in Young’s modulus was attributed to exposure at different intervals is shown in Fig. 11. For both the
changes in molecular mobility of the sample. For stabilized conditions before and after weathering, the Izod impact resis-

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(5) 26

24

22
20

Tensile stress (MPa)


18

16
14 Specimen #
12 1
2
10

4
2

0
0.0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 2.0

Tensile strain (mm/mm)


(6) 20

18

16

14
Tensile stress (MPa)

12
Specimen #
10
1
2
8

-2
-0.01 0.00 0.01 0.02 0.03 0.04 0.05 0.06 0.07 0.08 0.09 0.10
Tensile strain (mm/mm)

Figs. 5 and 6 – Stress vs strain curves before and after UV exposure.

tance is reduced till 500 h and after that it starts increasing Bimodal HDPE is relatively hard and resistant to impact
slightly in case of the sample after UV exposure. The decrease and can be subjected to temperatures of up to 120 ◦ C without
of impact resistance in starting of HDPE samples is mainly due being affected. It has many properties that make it important
to deterioration of low molecular weight polymer present in in the manufacturing of different products opaque or translu-
bimodal PE. cent appearance. Also, HDPE does not absorb liquid readily;
making it good barrier material for liquid containers. Recyling
of HDPE is also possible making it ideal for floating solar
3.3. Hardness analysis application.

The results of hardness analysis are shown in Fig. 12. The


aged samples had higher values of hardness than found for 4. Conclusion
the untreated sample. The hardness of HDPE is more than
another polyolefin [20,21]. The material gets harder because In the present work, bimodal HDPE material was subjected
of the aging process and the change occurs due to the closer to various weather parameters such as humidity, rain, visible
packing of the material in a macroscopic level that leads to light and UV radiations and the degradation of HDPE material
the dense and hard formation of the sample. Later on, it was observed. The following conclusions were drawn from the
was investigated here that after 1200 h of aging the hardness study.
remains constant. The intermolecular packing of material can
be attributed to modifications in the amorphous regions. Also, 1. The tensile strength was reduced from 23.22 MPa to
the cross-linking reactions lead to increases in hardness [21]. 14.64 MPa after accelerated UV exposure. It was observed

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After UV exposure Without UV exposure

30

25.2 25.1 25.3 25.4


25 25.5
23.22

Tensile strength (MPa) 19.82


20
18.66
16.464
15 14.64

10

0
0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400

Duration (hrs)

Fig. 7 – Variation of tensile strength before and after UV exposure.

After UV exposure Without UV exposure

1200

995.16 991.83 994.21 993.84


1000 995.77
955.16

800 784.67 739.64


697.69
Max. load (N)

637.81
600

400

200

0
0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400

Duration (Hrs)

Fig. 8 – Variation of Load bearing capacity before and after UV exposure.

that after 1000 h of exposure to accelerated weathering the molecular weight species in bimodal HDPE and to some
material still had the tendency to hold a constant load extent by the increase of crystallinity due to the effect of
of 637.81 N without rupture, compared to non-weathered UV radiation.
sample (955.16 N). The loss in tensile strength of weath- 3. The impact resistance did not show a significant change
ered samples is very less and not affected much by the during this period, the value varies in the range of
accelerated UV weathering condition. 13.54–10.06 kJ/m2 . However, the hardness is increased from
2. The elongation at break was reduced maintaining elonga- 61 to 66 (Shore D) due to increase in crystallinity. The
tion of 6.24% due to the presence of low molecular weight in increase in hardness after weathering of samples indicates
bimodal HDPE after 1152 h of accelerated exposure, which an increase in crystallinity of the material as well as cross-
depicts the elasticity of the material, was still maintained. linking of the polymer.
The gradual and progressive deterioration of the elonga- 4. Bimodal HDPE technology delivers a substantial improve-
tion at break could be mainly due to the presence of low ment in mechanical properties, which include increased

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800
725.6
689.03
700
644.76

586.07
600

Modulus of elasticity (MPa)


509.04
500

400

300

200

100

0
0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400

Duration (Hrs)

Fig. 9 – Elastic modulus vs exposure time after UV.

40 After UV exposure
Without UV exposure

35
32.7 32.7 33.1 33.5
33.4
31.752
30
Elongation at break (mm)

25

20

15

10
9.18
8.37
6.274
6.24
5

0
0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400
Duration (hrs)

Fig. 10 – Variation in the elongation at break value before and after weathering in accelerated environment.

environmental stress crack resistance (ESCR), increased the load of solar panels and other accessories mounted
top load resistance for higher stacking requirements and on it.
ability to lightweight containers while maintaining drop
impact resistance. Conflicts of interest
5. It is concluded after experiments that the mechanical prop-
erties of biomodal HDPE material after accelerated UV
The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
exposure was not much affected and it is safe to bear

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After UV exposure Without UV exposure

20

18

16

Breaking load (KJ/mm2) 14 13.54435 13.4326 12.81346 13.23254


12.97249
12 13.54435
12.4435 10.9769
10 10.70075 10.0666
8

0
0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400

Duration (hours)

Fig. 11 – Variation of impact strength before and after exposure of various intervals.

After UV exposure Without UV exposure

70

65 66
65
63

61
Hardness

61 61 61
60 61
60

55

50
0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400

Duration (hours)

Fig. 12 – Hardness before and after various intervals of time.

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Please cite this article in press as: Sahu AK, Sudhakar K. Effect of UV exposure on bimodal HDPE floats for floating solar application. J Mater Res
Technol. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmrt.2017.10.002