Materials With the Best Specific Heat Capacity for Disposable Cups

The claim, “Disposable coffee cups should be made from re-usable materials” has several aspects that could be investigated. The aspect that each material used to create coffee cups have different specific heat capacities that affect the performance of how well heat is preserved will be investigated. This aspect was chosen as it investigates the physics behind different materials used, such as their specific heat capacities, insulation, thermal conductivity and therefore how well and how long heat is held. Theses aspects will require scientific evidence which will be sourced from research collected. The efficiency of each material will be investigated and researched as well as the specific heat capacity values. Coffee is a hot beverage that is consumed on a daily basis by many people around the world and is considered to be crucial for the survival of more than one in four Australians. Three in four Australians (75%) enjoy at least one cup of coffee per day, and of those, 28% have three or more cups per day (mccrindle, 2019). The material of coffee cups range from ceramic, steel, polystyrene (Styrofoam), paper, metal, enamel, bamboo and porcelain. The material of reusable and recyclable coffee cups must consider how well heat is held. To determine this, the findings from the research question will be used to differentiate the best material for holding heat, and therefore the best re-usable coffee cup material.

Based on the specific heat capacity of different coffee cup materials, polystyrene, paper, clay ceramic, polypropylene and porcelain, how well do they hold heat and which material would be best for a reusable coffee cup?

The specific heat capacities of polystyrene, paper, clay ceramic, polypropylene and porcelain, all common materials used to make coffee cups, were investigated and compared. Clay ceramic had the lowest specific heat capacity while polypropylene had the highest specific heat capacity. Polypropylene (PP) is a recyclable thermoplastic, made from the combination of propylene monomers. It is commonly used in a variety of applications to include packaging for consumer products, plastic parts for various industries including the automotive industry, and textiles. Clay ceramic, with the lowest specific heat capacity is a material that retains its properties at elevated temperatures due to the strong ionic-covalent bonding. Ceramics working at high temperatures are known as refectory ceramic materials however don’t keep the heat as well as polypropylene. Therefore, polypropylene would be a more sufficient material to make coffee cups when its specific heat capacity is compared to that of clay ceramic.

Disposable or take-away coffee cups are extremely popular in retail food outlets and the most popular material to make the cups are paper and polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam. These two materials have similar specific heat capacities. While polystyrene has a higher specific heat capacity, paper is used more often due to its ability to be biodegradable even though polystyrene is a better insulator and holds heat for a longer period of time due to its thicker walls. During the manufacturing process of these two materials, polystyrene requires approximately 42% less water, 17% less energy, 22% less petroleum to source materials and ship cups, doesn’t call for chemicals that can harm water if not disposed of properly, such as chlorine dioxide and doesn’t necessitate the cutting of trees. In contrast, paper cups produce approximately 28% fewer greenhouse gasses, decompose in landfill in 20 years, as opposed to 1 million-plus, decompose in water in just a few days compared to 50 years, aren’t toxic and are much easier to recycle and are recycled at a higher rate. As a result, paper cups are much more popular and commonly used in retail despite polystyrene having better characteristics to maintain heat.

Evidently, polypropylene is the best material to produce re-usable coffee cups based on its specific heat capacity. Polypropylene offers a decent balance of thermal, chemical and electrical properties with moderate strength. On the other hand, paper and polystyrene are the next best materials based on their specific heat capacities and are commonly used today.

As a conclusion, from the evidence collected through research the best coffee cup material out of polystyrene, paper, clay ceramic, polypropylene or porcelain, was established based on how well they hold heat and their specific heat capacities. As a result, the claim “Disposable coffee cups should be made from re-usable materials” can be supported by this research, however more evidence could be used to further support it.

07 July 2022
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