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  1. Abstract

    In this study, poly(ethylene terephthalate)‐block‐polyethylene (PET‐PE) multiblock copolymers (MBCPs) with block molar masses of ~4 or 7 kg mol−1and either alternating or random block sequencing, and a PE‐PET‐PE triblock copolymer (TBCP) of comparable total molar mass, were synthesized. To explore the effect of molecular architecture on compatibilization, both MBCPs and TBCPs were blended into 80/20 wt/wt mixtures of PET/linear low‐density PE (LLDPE). Compatibilization was remarkably efficient for all MBCP types, with the addition of 0.2 wt% yielding blends nearly as tough as PET homopolymer. Addition of MBCP also significantly decreases LLDPE dispersed phase sizes compared to PET/LLDPE neat blends, as much as 80% in as‐mixed blends and by a factor of 10 in post‐mixing thermally annealed samples. Conversely, the TBCP was less efficient at decreasing domain sizes of the blends and improving the mechanical properties, requiring loadings of 1 wt% to produce comparably tough blends. Peel tests of PET/BCP/LLDPE trilayer films showed that both MBCPs and TBCP all improve interfacial strength over a PET‐PE bilayer film by two orders of magnitude; however, when the BCPs were preloaded into LLDPE, only the MBCP containing films showed strong adhesion highlighting their potential utility as adhesive agents in multilayer films.

     
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  2. Abstract

    Poly(lactic acid) (PLA) is a commercially available bio‐based polymer that is a potential alternative to many commodity petrochemical‐based polymers. However, PLA's thermomechanical properties limit its use in many applications. Incorporating polymer‐grafted cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) is one potential route to improving these mechanical properties. One key challenge in using these polymer‐grafted nanoparticles is to understand which variables associated with polymer grafting are most important for improving composite properties. In this work, poly(ethylene glycol)‐grafted CNCs are used to study the effects of polymer grafting density and molecular weight on the properties of PLA composites. All CNC nanofillers are found to reinforce PLA above the glass transition temperature, but non‐grafted CNCs and CNCs grafted with short PEG chains (<2 kg mol−1) are found to cause significant embrittlement, generally resulting in less than 3% elongation‐at‐break. By grafting higher molecular weight PEG (10 kg mol−1) onto the CNCs at a grafting density where the polymer chains are predicted to be in the semi‐dilute polymer brush conformation (~0.1 chains nm−2), embrittlement can be avoided.

     
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  3. Abstract

    Extensional flow properties of polymer solutions in volatile solvents govern many industrially-relevant coating processes, but existing instrumentation lacks the environment necessary to control evaporation. To mitigate evaporation during dripping-onto-substrate (DoS) extensional rheology measurements, we developed a chamber to enclose the sample in an environment saturated with solvent vapor. We validated the evaporation-controlled DoS device by measuring a model high molecular weight polyethylene oxide (PEO) in various organic solvents both inside and outside of the chamber. Evaporation substantially increased the extensional relaxation time$$\lambda _{E}$$λEfor PEO in volatile solvents like dichloromethane and chloroform. PEO/chloroform solutions displayed an over 20-fold increase in$$\lambda _{E}$$λEdue to the formation of an evaporation-induced surface film; evaporation studies confirmed surface features and skin formation reminiscent of buckling instabilities commonly observed in drying polymer solutions. Finally, the relaxation times of semi-dilute PEO/chloroform solutions were measured with environmental control, where$$\lambda _{E}$$λEscaled with concentration by the exponent$$m=0.62$$m=0.62. These measurements validate the evaporation-controlled DoS environment, and confirm that chloroform is a good solvent for PEO, with a Flory exponent of$$\nu =0.54$$ν=0.54. Our results are the first to control evaporation during DoS extensional rheology, and provide guidelines establishing when environmental control is necessary to obtain accurate rheological parameters.

     
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  4. The development of robust methods for the synthesis of chemically recyclable polymers with tunable properties is necessary for the design of next-generation materials. Polyoxazolidinones (POxa), polymers with five-membered urethanes in their backbones, are an attractive target because they are strongly polar and have high thermal stability, but existing step-growth syntheses limit molar masses and methods to chemically recycle POxa to monomer are rare. Herein, we report the synthesis of high molar mass POxa via ring-opening metathesis polymerization of oxazolidinone-fused cyclooctenes. These novel polymers show <5% mass loss up to 382–411 °C and have tunable glass transition temperatures (14–48 °C) controlled by the side chain structure. We demonstrate facile chemical recycling to monomer and repolymerization despite moderately high monomer ring-strain energies, which we hypothesize are facilitated by the conformational restriction introduced by the fused oxazolidinone ring. This method represents the first chain growth synthesis of POxa and provides a versatile platform for the study and application of this emerging subclass of polyurethanes. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 16, 2025
  5. Carbon dioxide (CO2) has long been recognized as an ideal C1 feedstock comonomer for producing sustainable materials because it is renewable, abundant, and cost-effective. However, activating CO2 presents a significant challenge because it is highly oxidized and stable. A CO2/butadiene-derived δ-valerolactone (EVP), generated via palladium-catalyzed telomerization between CO2 and butadiene, has emerged as an attractive intermediate for producing sustainable copolymers from CO2 and butadiene. Owing to the presence of two active carbon–carbon double bonds and a lactone unit, EVP serves as a versatile intermediate for creating sustainable copolymers with a CO2 content of up to 29 wt % (33 mol %). In this Review, advances in the synthesis of copolymers from CO2 and butadiene with divergent structures through various polymerization protocols have been summarized. Achievements made in homo- and copolymerization of EVP or its derivatives are comprehensively reviewed, while the postmodification of the obtained copolymers to access new polymers are also discussed. Meanwhile, potential applications of the obtained copolymers are also discussed. The literature references were sorted into sections based on polymerization strategies and mechanisms, facilitating readers in gaining a comprehensive view of the present chemistry landscape and inspiring innovative approaches to synthesizing novel CO2-derived copolymers. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 13, 2025
  6. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is a widely used commercial plastic due to its excellent mechanical properties, chemical resistance, and water vapor barrier properties. However, less than 10% of HDPE is mechanically recycled, and the chemical recycling of HDPE is challenging due to the inherent strength of the carbon–carbon backbone bonds. Here, we report chemically recyclable linear and branched HDPE with sparse backbone ester groups synthesized from the transesterification of telechelic polyethylene macromonomers. Stoichiometrically self-balanced telechelic polyethylenes underwent transesterification polymerization to produce the PE-ester samples with high number-average molar masses of up to 111 kg/mol. Moreover, the transesterification polymerization of the telechelic polyethylenes and the multifunctional diethyl 5-(hydroxymethyl)isophthalate generated branched PE-esters. Thermal and mechanical properties of the PE-esters were comparable to those of commercial HDPE and tunable through control of the ester content in the backbone. In addition, branched PE-esters showed higher levels of melt strain hardening compared with linear versions. The PE-ester was depolymerized into telechelic macromonomers through straightforward methanolysis, and the resulting macromonomers could be effectively repolymerized to generate a high molar mass recycled PE-ester sample. This is a new and promising method for synthesizing and recycling high-molar-mass linear and branched PE-esters, which are competitive with HDPE and have easily tailorable properties. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 7, 2025
  7. Membrane filtration is an important industrial purification process used to access clean and potable water. The fabrication of the membranes used in these purification applications often involves expensive and energy-intensive processes that have a large negative impact on the environment. Sustainable alternatives with a high water flux and strong rejection performance are needed to purify water. The focus of this work is to investigate the use of polymer-grafted cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) in membrane applications. The impact of the polymer grafting density and polymer conformation was investigated and it is shown that by increasing the grafting density of PEG such that it adopts a semidilute polymer brush conformation, the water flux through the membranes could be increased from 3.5 to 2900 L h–1 m–2 for CNC membranes without and with grafted PEG, respectively. These membranes also exhibited rejection performances with molecular weight cutoffs between 62 and 100 kDa for all polymer-grafted samples, consistent with the ultrafiltration regime. Thus, the design of these one-component composite materials can enhance the water permeability of ultrafiltration membranes while maintaining effective selectivity. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 2, 2025
  8. Block copolymers at homopolymer interfaces are poised to play a critical role in the compatibilization of mixed plastic waste, an area of growing importance as the rate of plastic accumulation rapidly increases. Using molecular dynamics simulations of Kremer–Grest polymer chains, we have investigated how the number of blocks and block degree of polymerization in a linear multiblock copolymer impacts the interface thermodynamics of strongly segregated homopolymer blends, which is key to effective compatibilization. The second virial coefficient reveals that interface thermodynamics are more sensitive to block degree of polymerization than to the number of blocks. Moreover, we identify a strong correlation between surface pressure (reduction of interfacial tension) and the spatial uniformity of block junctions on the interface, yielding a morphological framework for interpreting the role of compatibilizer architecture (number of blocks) and block degree of polymerization. These results imply that, especially at high interfacial loading, the choice of architecture of a linear multiblock copolymer compatibilizing surfactant does not greatly affect the modification of interfacial tension. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 21, 2024
  9. Polylactic acid (PLA) and bioplastics alike have a designed degradability to avoid the environmental buildup that petroplastics have created. Yet, this designed biotic-degradation has typically been characterized in ideal conditions. This study seeks to relate the abiotic to the biotic degradation of PLA to accurately represent the degradation pathways bioplastics will encounter, supposing their improper disposal in the environment. Enzymatic hydrolysis was used to study the biodegradation of PLA with varying stages of photoaging. Utilizing a fluorescent tag to follow enzyme hydrolysis, it was determined that increasing the amount of irradiation yielded greater amounts of total enzymatic hydrolysis by proteinase K after 8 h of enzyme incubation. While photoaging of the polymers causes minimal changes in chemistry and increasing amounts of crystallinity, the trends in biotic degradation appear to primarily be driven by photoinduced reduction in molecular weight. The relationship between photoaging and enzyme hydrolysis appears to be independent of enzyme type, though commercial product degradation may be impacted by the presence of additives. Overall, this work reveals the importance of characterizing biodegradation with relevant samples that ultimately can inform optimization of production and disposal. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 2, 2024