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What is Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA)? Applications & Environmental Impact

Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) is an invaluable material widely used across numerous industries due to its impressive physical and chemical properties. This literary expedition discusses the range of properties and environmental impacts of PVA, how it is produced, its critical applications, and tips for practical use.

We will also examine how PVA can be effectively handled under different conditions and what factors affect performance and safety. We will also look at the possible environmental implications of a process using this material.

With this comprehensive overview, readers should feel equipped to make the most of the incredibly versatile PVA.

What is Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA)?

Chemist mixing chemicals
angellodeco / Adobe Stock

Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) is a non-toxic, biodegradable polymer that has a wide range of applications. It is synthesized from ethylene, oxygen, and acetic acid. It’s a versatile material used in food packaging, wood glue, laundry detergents, biomedical and pharmaceutical applications, and industrial applications such as films, adhesives, and coatings.

Due to its excellent oxygen barrier properties, PVA is also used in drug delivery systems. PVA is also resistant to heavy metals and non-carcinogenic, making it a preferred choice in the medical field.

We will explore PVA’s physical properties, applications, and environmental impact as we delve into this adventure.

Chemical Structure of PVA

Polyvinyl Alcohol Structural Formula
/ Wikimedia Commons, Public domain

Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) is composed mainly of 1,3-diol linkages [CH2CH(OH)CH2CH(OH)]. Still, a few percent of 1,2-diols [CH2CH(OH)CH(OH)CH2] occur, depending on the conditions for the polymerization of the vinyl ester precursor.

The PVA molecule is composed of acetic acid (CH3COOH) and vinyl acetate (CH2=CHCOOH), which are then hydrolyzed to form vinyl alcohol (CH2=CHOH) and acetic acid (CH3COOH). The presence of hydroxyl groups (–OH) on the side chains of the PVA molecules gives it superior oxygen barrier properties compared to other known polymer materials.

The structure of vinyl alcohol is composed of a four-membered ring, with a double bond between the carbon atoms and hydroxyl groups on the terminal carbon atoms. This structure allows for better water solubility and makes PVA a superior oxygen barrier to other known polymer materials. Additionally, the two hydroxyl groups located on the side chains of the PVA molecules make it self-cross-linking, which is desirable for many applications.

PVA can be further hydrolyzed to obtain different molecular weights, with the range of molecular weights typically used for PVA products ranging from 20,000 to 400,000. This range of molecular weights is often used in biomedical and pharmaceutical applications, as it allows for producing materials with different physical properties. Additionally, the hydrolysis of PVA increases its water solubility and reduces its viscosity, allowing for the production of materials with different viscosities.

These linkages and the presence of hydroxyl groups make PVA a unique polymer with a wide range of applications and a low environmental impact. Its biocompatibility and non-toxicity make it suitable for biomedical and pharmaceutical applications, such as drug delivery systems and implantable medical devices. Due to its mechanical properties and compatibility with other compounds, PVA is also used in industrial applications, such as films, adhesives, and coatings.

Physical Properties of PVA

Polyvinyl alcohol synthesis  structure
Elrond / Wikimedia Commons, Public domain

Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) is a synthetic polymer with many physical properties. It has a melting point of 230°C and 180–190°C for the fully and partially hydrolyzed grades, respectively. PVA also has high tensile strength, flexibility, and water solubility and is insoluble in organic solvents but has slightly more water-soluble properties than in ethanol.

The water solubility of PVA makes it a desirable material for biomedical and pharmaceutical applications, as it allows for producing materials with different viscosities. Additionally, hydroxyl groups on its side chains make it self-cross-linking, which is desirable for many applications.

PVA can also be blended with other polymers to modify its physical properties. As an illustration of polymer properties, blending PVA with chitin, a deacetylated product of chitin (the second most abundant polysaccharide in nature), can increase its tensile strength and elasticity. Additionally, adding Halloysite nanotubes (HNTs) to PVA increases its strength and stiffness and reduces its permeability, making it a desirable material for advanced medical fields, hemodialysis, drug delivery systems, and implantable medical devices.

The physical properties of PVA also make it a desirable material for industrial applications. Its chemically compatible structure and hydrophilic properties make it a suitable material for film forming and adhesives. At the same time, blending with other polymers can modify their properties to suit different applications. The surface properties of PVA fillers are also fundamentally significant in selection criteria, as they can affect the mechanical and thermal properties of the material.

These physical properties of PVA make it a desirable material for a range of applications. Its water solubility, biocompatibility, and self-cross-linking make it suitable for biomedical and pharmaceutical applications, while its mechanical properties make it a desirable material for industrial applications.

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Applications of PVA

Laboratory glass items
Hans Reniers / Unsplash

Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) has a range of applications in the textile, paper, and food packaging industries. They are additionally used in medicine and biology for a range of purposes. PVA is a valuable component in the manufacturing process.

It can be used to create water-soluble and biodegradable carriers suitable for a range of chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides and to produce hydrogels, which are used as a component of the biomedical system and for organ replacement, drug delivery devices, and wound management.

Because of its biocompatibility and non-toxicity, PVA is an attractive material to be used as a drug carrier and in medical applications. Its water solubility, biocompatibility, and hydroxyl groups on the polymer chains make it suitable for biomedical and pharmaceutical applications [56,57,58,59,60,61,62,63].

Additionally, PVA has a wide range of industrial, commercial, medical, and food applications. These applications demonstrate the versatility of PVA and its potential to be used in a range of industries. Therefore, PVA has many applications that can be used in a range of industries and fields.

See Related: What is Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA)? Applications & Environmental Impact

Biomedical Applications

Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) is a versatile polymer with a range of biomedical applications. This biodegradable polymer composed of hydroxyl groups linked to a backbone of vinyl acetate groups or vinyl alcohol units is used in various medical and pharmaceutical applications [64, 65]. PVA is commonly used in medical devices due to its low protein adsorption characteristics, biocompatibility, high water solubility, and chemical resistance.

PVA-based hydrogels have been widely investigated in drug carriers, articular cartilage, wound dressings, tissue engineering, and other intelligent materials, such as self-healing and shape-memory materials, supercapacitors, sensors, and other fields. The desirable properties of PVA and PVA-HNT nanocomposites make them suitable for applications in bone tissue engineering and drug delivery systems.

Polyvinyl alcohol is a highly water soluble and-soluble polymer with high mechanical strength and excellent biocompatibility, making it suitable for biomedical and pharmaceutical applications. PVA-HNT nanocomposites have unique properties such as uniform dispersion of nanotubes within the polymer matrix, enhanced interfacial interactions in composite systems, and cell absorbance of HNTs. These properties make PVA and PVA-HNT nanocomposites suitable for potential applications in bone tissue engineering and drug delivery systems [52,53,67,68,69,70].

See Related: What is Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA)? Applications & Environmental Impact

General Applications

Polymer mass
5PS / Pixabay

Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) has many industrial, commercial, medical, and food applications. It is used as a coating and finishing agent for paints, lacquers, and resins and as an emulsifier for food production, leather processing, and fiber production. This is additionally used as a polymer in textile and surface processes and an organic solvent for industrial cleaning chemicals and disinfectants.

In addition, PVA produces water treatment chemicals, dyes, laundry detergents, agricultural chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. They are additionally used in food packaging materials, cosmetics, and paper production. Besides, PVA is suitable for polymer recycling, binding and coating, and adhesives.

For instance, HopePodz uses PVA to create a pouch for their refill, demonstrating the versatility of PVA in the commercial pharmaceutical industry itself.

Additionally, a range of methods has been developed to reduce the disadvantages of PVA, such as physical blending, chemical modification by grafting, interpenetrating polymer networks, and crosslinking methods [71, 72]. These applications demonstrate the versatility of PVA and its potential to be used in a range of industries.

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Fabrication Approaches for PVA Composites

Chemist reaching for a chemical glass bottle
CDC / Unsplash

Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) composites can be used for various applications, from biomedical to general uses. For creating these materials, a range of fabrication approaches must be used. Solvent blending/drying and wet-spinning are two of the most common techniques. Solvent blending/drying involves mixing PVA with a solvent and then drying the solution to form a film or sheet. Wet-spinning creates fibers with PVA that are then woven into fabrics.

Along with these traditional fabrication techniques, nanocomposites can be produced through in-situ polymerization, electrospinning, and selective laser sintering.

In-situ polymerization involves the creation of a PVA-nanoparticle composite by chemically binding or physically entangling the nanoparticles to the surface of the PVA solution.

Electrospinning also creates nanocomposites but uses a polymer solution, like PVA, to form fibers by applying an electric field. Selective laser sintering involves using a laser to combine particles or nanofibers to create a composite material.

When creating PVA-HNTs (high-aspect-ratio nanotubes) composites, selection criteria such as improving nanotube dispersion in the polymer matrix and enhancing interfacial interactions should be considered. Twin screw extruders and two roll mills are typical processing methods for PVA-HNTs composites.

Flame retardant behavior is enhanced with increasing filler loading, while water absorption capacity is increased with increasing filler loading. Using HNTs to improve simple packaging film formation helps strengthen thermal properties. The properties of electrospun fiber-reinforced polymer composites are highly dependent on the adhesion between the fibers and the matrix.

Adhesion at this interface is, therefore, a critical factor in determining the mechanical performance of these composites. The melting point and glass transition Tg of chitosan/PVA blends can be lowered by including small molecules.

This improves polymer and thermal properties, particularly suited for specific applications. Coagulation is one of the methods used to create nanocomposite films. Casting is another process utilized to produce such films. Immobilization experiments involve a combination of lipase solution and support mixed at room temperature under magnetic stirring conditions. The range of HNTs loading used in HNT-based PVA composites is 0.5-5%.

By understanding the fabrication approaches for PVA composites, it is possible to create materials with desired properties for various applications while minimizing environmental impact. Through the use of natural polymers such as chitosan, heavy metals can be reduced or eliminated from the PVA.

Besides, through vigorous stirring and the dissolution of the PVA in a polymer solution, nanocomposites with high tensile strength and other mechanical properties can be produced, making them suitable for medical applications, drug delivery systems, food packaging, and other applications.

Characterization of PVA Composites

Lab technician analyzing chemicals
ME Image / Adobe Stock

The characterization of PVA composites includes the study of their chemical, physical, thermal, and mechanical properties. Chemical properties such as hydrophilicity, water solubility, and biodegradability can be determined using a range of analytical techniques. Physical properties such as tensile strength, stiffness, and optical transparency can also be studied to understand the composites better.

Thermal properties such as thermal conductivity and glass transition temperature (Tg) can be measured to evaluate the thermal stability of PVA composites. Finally, mechanical properties such as Young’s modulus, tensile strength, and maximum strain can be measured to study the mechanical performance of PVA composites.

It is crucial to consider the environmental impact of PVA when using it in applications.

Morphological Studies

Books for studies
Aaron Burden / Unsplash

Morphological studies of PVA composites involve examining the physical structure and shape of the composites.

This can include studying the effects of nanoparticles on morphology, the morphology of PVA/Na-MMT composite under different freezing technology conditions, and the morphological variations of composites depending on the amount of PVA addition. The distinctive and differential morphological aspects of HNTs can also affect their charge distributions.

In addition, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) can be used to visualize the surface morphology of PVA-HNT films, which can determine the homogenous distribution of HNT within the composite films. TEM images can also be used to examine the morphology of HNTs. By studying the morphology of PVA composites, researchers can better understand the properties and applications of PVA.

Thermal Properties

Chemists doing a laboratory analysis
jarmoluk / Pixabay

Thermal properties are crucial for understanding the behavior and performance of PVA composites. Generally, PVA composites have relatively low thermal conductivities, usually less than 1 W m–1 K–1, which limits their application as thermal insulators. However, the thermal stability of PVA increases after thermal treatment. The thermal stability of PVA-HNT nanocomposites is improved with increasing filler loading.

The thermal properties of PVA-HNT films can be further characterized by thermal analysis techniques such as differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) and thermogravimetric analysis (TGA). Figure 9 shows the DSC cooling thermograms of neat PVA and PVA-HNT composite films with different HNT contents. The intended and achieved target thermal properties for each composition can be seen in the figure. It is observed that the glass transition temperature (Tg) of different composites gradually decreases with increased HNT contents.

Mechanical Properties

Chemist laboratory analysis
jarmoluk / Pixabay

The mechanical properties of PVA composites are a crucial factor to consider when evaluating their performance. PVA composites have excellent mechanical properties, including high tensile strength, flexibility, and specific strength. The distinctive and differential morphological aspects of HNTs can also affect the mechanical properties of PVA-HNT films.

The mechanical properties of PVA-HNT nanocomposites are also studied. It is observed that the tensile strength decreases with increasing HNT loadings while Young’s modulus increases. Small amounts of clay particles can significantly increase the resilience of PVA particles due to the magnitude of a specific area.

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Environmental Impact of PVA

Woman in glasses using tablet computer
Syda Productions / Adobe Stock

PVA is considered a low-hazard substance with a relatively low environmental impact. It is non-toxic and does not release harmful chemicals when it breaks down. PVA is also considered a readily biodegradable material, meaning environmental microorganisms can break it down. This makes it a viable alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastics, which are not biodegradable.

Polyvinyl alcohol is entirely biodegradable and more environmentally friendly than conventional polymers. It is highly water-soluble, making it suitable for applications that require water solubility—additionally used in medical applications, such as eye drops, due to its non-toxic properties. PVA’s water solubility and non-toxic nature make it suitable for food packaging, as it can be easily dissolved in water and is not harmful to humans or animals.

PVA has multiple advantages compared to other polymer materials, including high chemical and thermal stability, low manufacturing costs, and high strength. Additionally, PVA is optically transparent in water and has good film-forming properties. Additionally capable of creating nano-sized particles for use in drug delivery systems.

The long-term effects of PVA on aquatic life and the environment are minimal. PVA film is designed to biodegrade over time and releases reusable nutrients into the atmosphere. This makes it a better choice than conventional plastic, which can take hundreds of years to break down.

But, the presence of hydroxyl groups in PVA can slow down the biodegradation rate, as they can interact with metal ions in the environment to form insoluble complexes. To reduce this effect, hydrophobic nanotubes (HNTs) can be added to the material to reduce the rate of decomposition.


Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) is a water-soluble, biodegradable polymer with excellent oxygen barrier properties and various applications. Its unique chemical structure gives it amazing self-cross-linking features, making it an ideal material for fabricating nanocomposites.

PVA has been widely used in biomedical and pharmaceutical sectors due to its desirable properties, such as biocompatibility and high water solubility. It is nationally used in different industries such as textiles, paper, food packaging coatings, and more, making it a versatile option.

Besides, various fabrication approaches exist that use PVA composites while minimizing environmental impact. The characterization of PVA composites has identified that these materials have low thermal conductivities, improved thermal stability after thermal treatment, high mechanical properties, and minimal environmental impact due to being non-toxic and readily biodegradable.

This literary expedition overviewed Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA), structure, properties, applications, fabrication techniques, characterization tasks, and environmental impact. In the end, PVA can be used in many applications due to its desirable properties, and it provides an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastics.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a PVA used for?

Poly (vinyl alcohol) (PVOH, PVA, or PVAl) is a water-soluble synthetic polymer used for various applications, including papermaking, textile sizing, adhesives and emulsifiers, water-soluble protective films, and as a starting material in the production of other resins. PVAPoly(vinyl alcohol) has high chemical thermal stability and low manufacturing costs, making it widely applicable across textile, paper, food packaging, and optical sectors.

PVAPoly(vinyl alcohol) is a versatile material with many properties, including excellent film-forming ability, good adhesion, and good water solubility. Additionally non-toxic, non-irritating, and non-allergenic, making it suitable for food packaging and medical applications. Additionally, PVAPoly (vinyl alcohol) is entirely biodegradable.

Is PVA toxic to humans?

Research shows that PVA is safe for humans in a typical daily exposure setting. But, the ingredients inside the PVA encasement may have hazardous effects and require further evaluation.

What is PVA made from?

PVA is a plastic polymer made from polyvinyl vinyl acetate monomer. Through a process of free-radical vinyl polymerization and partial hydrolysis, polyvinyl acetate is formed. This is then further hydrolyzed to produce polyvinyl alcohol.

Is PVA considered plastic?

Yes, PVA (also known as PVOH) is considered a plastic waste because it is a synthetic polymer derived from fossil fuels. Although pliable and water-soluble, it still has some of the same properties that ordinary plastics possess and can be used in many applications.

PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol) is a synthetic plastic polymer commonly used to make thin plastic wrapping and lining layers. It is considered malleable because it is derived from fossil fuels and has similar properties to ordinary plastics.

Is polyvinyl alcohol safe to eat?

Based on the available evidence, it is safe to conclude that polyvinyl alcohol is safe to eat. With its low toxicity, poorly absorbed-through-the-gastrointestinal-tract nature, and general recognition as a GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) ingredient, PVA can be found in many food items and dietary supplements in normal quantities.

PVA is a versatile and safe ingredient used in a range of applications. It’s a thickener, stabilizer, emulsifier, and film-forming agent.

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