Byline: Anastasia Weiner
Bunging a ready meal into a microwave oven is something we take for granted in our busy modern lives.
So too is watching a crystal clear image on a flat-screen TV or playing a video.
So learning that plastics - or more precisely polyester, is what makes it possible for us to enjoy dinner in a mere seven minutes or put our feet up in front of the latest LCD or plasma screen television may come as a surprise.
From X-ray film to recycleable food packaging - its uses are infinite. Plain polyethylene terephthalate (known as PET or PETE) is most commonly associated with a material from which cloth and high-performance clothing are produced.
But PETG, also known as glycolised polyester, is also used in the production of polyester film and has a variety of uses, while polyester film (PETF) is used in many applications such as videotape, high quality packaging, identity cards and professional photographic printing.
Chemical manufacturing giants ICI and DuPont both lay claim to its creation, although it was British chemists John Rex Whinfield and James Tennant Dickson that patented polyethylene terephthalate in 1941, after advancing the early research of Wallace Carothers.
Today, DuPont Teijin Films (DTF) - a 50/50 joint venture between DuPont and Japanese manufacturing firm Teijin formed in 2000 - is seen as the leading supplier of PET and PEN - a high-grade polyester film - under trademarks including Melinex and Mylar.
A global organisation with manufacturing sites across the US, Japan, Europe, the UK, China and Indonesia, it employs 4,000 staff, has a turnover of $1.4bn and produces 300,000 tonnes of polyester film a year.
But the evolution of polyester, its uses and potential, is carried out on Teesside. Based at Wilton, the research facility works with the firm's manufacturing operations as well as outside organisations such as the North-east's Centre for Process Innovation (CPI), to develop the technology and drive new markets.
Originally under ICI ownership until 1998, when it was sold to DuPont, the research and development centre employs 100 staff.
John Purdy, DTF's Teesside's site manager and director of global research, admits that few people give a thought to the PET-based plastics that they use, or how they were developed. …