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20 Types of Materials

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A material is a substance that people find useful such that it is produced for economic reasons. Materials are commonly used to produce parts, components and products. They are also used to build infrastructure, buildings and landscapes. Materials can also be consumed in processes such as farming, manufacturing and logistics. The following are common types of material.

Plastic

A broad category of organic compounds that are molded into a wide variety of parts, components, products and packaging. Plastic is inexpensive and highly versatile and is widely used. It is often negatively perceived as plastic waste commonly ends up in waterways and oceans with chemicals from plastic leaching into water and ending up in food.

Metals

Metals and alloys such as iron, aluminum, titanium, copper, tin, nickel, silver, gold, steel, brass and bronze.

Wood

Products of woody plants including pine, spruce, oak, elm, cherry, maple, linden, ash, bamboo, rattan and cork. Wood used in construction serves to sequester carbon. It is also a renewable and sustainable resource if forests are managed responsibly.

Paper

A highly processed wood product that is used in a wide variety of products such as boxes, packaging, books and toilet paper.

Natural Textiles

Flexible natural materials used in clothing, furniture and a variety of other products. Natural textiles include cotton, wool, flax, silk, hemp and cashmere. Textiles are fibers that are typically formed into long threads and woven into cloth.

Synthetic Textiles

Textiles produced from chemicals include polyester, acrylic, nylon, spandex and carbon fibre.

Leather

A durable and flexible material made from animal skin, mostly cattle.

Fibers

Other fiber materials beyond textiles. Natural fibers such as wood fiber are often used to make other materials such as paper and wood products. Synthetic fibers include metallic fibers, carbon fiber, fiberglass and optical fiber.

Glass

Glass is a solid material that is often based on the chemical compound silica that is a naturally occurring type of sand. Glass is valued for its transparency and hardness and is used to make a wide range of products including windows, glassware and fibre optic cables.

Chemicals

Chemicals and chemical compounds. These include fine chemicals, specialty chemicals, organic chemicals, inorganic chemicals, petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. Common uses of chemicals include plastics, synthetic fibers, synthetic rubber, dyes, paints, coating, fertilizers, pesticides, cosmetics, soaps, cleaning agents and medicines. Chemicals are also used in mining, manufacturing and agricultural processes.

Composite Materials

Combining materials with different properties to produce materials that are strong, light and/or cheap. Examples include reinforced concrete composed of steel and concrete, composite wood made from wood fiber and adhesives, reinforced plastic such as plastics strengthened with carbon fiber and ceramic matrix composites made with ceramics and metal.

Minerals

Minerals are naturally occurring chemical compounds. These include talc, gypsum, calcite, fluorite, apatite, quartz, topaz and corundum.

Stone

Stones are solid aggregates of minerals such as flint, granite, limestone, sandstone and gems. Small rocks such as gravel and sand are also common materials.

Concrete

A composite material made with chemicals, water, minerals, gravel, crushed rocks and sand. Concrete production emits significant amounts of carbon dioxide. However, in theory concrete could be used to sequester carbon.

Plaster

A material that is similar to concrete for use in interiors. Often made from gypsum, lime or cement. Plaster is not a strong material that is not used for load-bearing structures. It is easy to shape and is somewhat softer than concrete.

Ceramic

A category of non-metallic hard material that includes earthenware, stoneware, porcelain, bone china and boron carbide.

Rubber

Natural and synthetic rubbers valued for their stretch ratio, resilience and waterproof qualities.

Foam

Materials that have an internal structure that traps air such that they are lightweight. Foams have a variety of applications such as thermal insulation, sound proofing and padding for furniture.

Semiconductor

A semiconductor is a type of material that is valued for its electrical properties. Semiconductor materials aren't exactly a conductor such as gold or a insulator such as glass but fall somewhere in-between. They are often made from silicon with controlled impurities added to change the properties of the material for different applications. Semiconductors are primarily used in electronics including computing units and solar panels.

Rare-earths

A collection of metals that have various industrial uses. There are 17 rare-earth elements namely cerium, dysprosium, erbium, europium, gadolinium, holmium, lanthanum, lutetium, neodymium, praseodymium, promethium, samarium, scandium, terbium, thulium, ytterbium and yttrium. Despite their name, most rare-earths are plentiful in the Earth's crust but concentrated deposits of rare-earths that are inexpensive to extract and refine are relatively rare.

Notes

Foods and water aren't typically considered materials. However, it is increasingly common to use food ingredients in products based on the idea of waste is food.
Overview: Materials
Type
Definition
A substance that people find useful such that it is produced for economic reasons.
Related Concepts
Next: Building Materials
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Base Metal
Building Materials
Ceramics
Composite Material
Construction Materials
Copper
Crystal Glass
Diamonds
Gemstones
Glass
Gold
Lapis Lazuli
Material Strength
Materials
Melting Point
Metal
Mohs Scale
Natural Materials
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Physical Properties
Precious Metals
Quartz
Raw Materials
Safety Glass
Silver
Steel
Wood
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Building Materials

A list of common building materials with their uses and properties.

Gemstones

An overview of the major types of gemstone.

Glass

A list of common types of glass with an explanation of each.

Material Strength

The definition of material strength with examples.

Metal

A list of the common types of metal.

Natural Materials

An a-z list of natural materials.

Industries

A list of industries.

Heavy Industry

The definition of heavy industry with examples.

Light Industry

The definition of light industry with examples.

Primary Industry

The definition of primary industry with examples.

Fashion Industry

The definition of fashion industry with examples.

Manufacturing Industry

An overview of the manufacturing industry with examples.

Economic Sector

The definition of economic sector with examples.

Tertiary Sector

The definition of tertiary sector with examples.

Secondary Industry

The definition of secondary industry with examples.
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