Ionizing radiation has been found to be widely applicable in modifying the structure and properties of polymers, and can be used to tailor the performance of either bulk materials or surfaces. Fifty years of research in polymer radiation chemistry has led to numerous applications of commercial and economic importance, and work remains active in the application of radiation to practical uses involving polymeric materials.
This paper provides a survey of radiation-processing methods of industrial interest, ranging from technologies already commercially well established, through innovations in the active R&D stage which show exceptional promise for future commercial use. Radiation-processing technologies are discussed under the following categories: cross-linking of plastics and rubbers, curing of coatings and inks, heat-shrink products, fiber–matrix composites, chain-scission for processing control, surface modification, grafting, hydrogels, sterilization, natural product enhancement, plastics recycling, ceramic precursors, electronic property materials, ion-track membranes and lithography for microdevice production. In addition to new technological innovations utilizing conventional gamma and e-beam sources, a number of promising new applications make use of novel radiation types which include ion beams (heavy ions, light ions, highly focused microscopic beams and high-intensity pulses), soft X-rays which are focused, coherent X-rays (from a synchrotron) and e-beams which undergo scattering to generate patterns.