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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Thermodynamics and Phase Behavior of Miscible Polymer Blends in the Presence of Supercritical Carbon Dioxide

  • Author(s): Young, Nicholas Philip
  • Advisor(s): Balsara, Nitash P
  • et al.

The design of environmentally-benign polymer processing techniques is an area of growing interest, motivated by the desire to reduce the emission of volatile organic compounds. Recently, supercritical carbon dioxide (scCO2) has gained traction as a viable candidate to process polymers both as a solvent and diluent. The focus of this work was to elucidate the nature of the interactions between scCO2 and polymers in order to provide rational insight into the molecular interactions which result in the unexpected mixing thermodynamics in one such system. The work also provides insight into the nature of pairwise thermodynamic interactions in multicomponent polymer-polymer-diluent blends, and the effect of these interactions on the phase behavior of the mixture.

In order to quantify the strength of interactions in the multicomponent system, the binary mixtures were characterized individually in addition to the ternary blend. Quantitative analysis of was made tractable through the use of a model miscible polymer blend containing styrene-acrylonitrile copolymer (SAN) and poly(methyl methacrylate) (dPMMA), a mixture which has been considered for a variety of practical applications. In the case of both individual polymers, scCO2 is known to behave as a diluent, wherein the extent of polymer swelling depends on both temperature and pressure. The solubility of scCO2 in each polymer as a function of temperature and pressure was characterized elsewhere. The SAN-dPMMA blend clearly exhibited lower critical solution temperature behavior, forming homogeneous mixtures at low temperatures and phase separating at elevated temperature. These measurements allowed the determination of the Flory-Huggins interaction parameter χ23 for SAN (species 2) and dPMMA (species 3) as a function of temperature at ambient pressure, in the absence of scCO2 (species 1).

Characterization of the phase behavior of the multicomponent (ternary) mixture was also carried out by SANS. An in situ SANS environment was developed to allow measurement of blend miscibility in the presence of scCO2. The pressure-temperature phase behavior of the system could be mapped by approaching the point of phase separation by spinodal decomposition through pressure increases at constant temperature. For a roughly symmetric mixture of SAN and dPMMA, the temperature at which phase separation occurred could be decreased by over 125 °C. The extent to which the phase behavior of the multicomponent system could be tuned motivated further investigation into the interactions present within the homogeneous mixtures.

Analysis of the SANS results for homogeneous mixtures was undertaken using a new multicomponent formalism of the random phase approximation theory. The scattering profiles obtained from the scCO2-SAN-dPMMA system could be predicted with reasonable success. The success of the theoretical predictions was facilitated by directly employing the interactions found in the binary experiments. Exploitation of the condition of homogeneity with respect to chemical potential allowed determination of interaction parameters for scCO2-SAN and 2-dPMMA within the multicomponent mixture (χ12 and χ13, respectively). Studying this system over a large range of the supercritical regime yielded insight on the nature of interactions in the system. Near the critical point of scCO2, χ12 and χ13 increase monotonically as a function of pressure. Conversely, at elevated temperature away from the critical point, the interaction parameters are found to go through a minimum as a pressure increases. Analysis of the critical phenomenon associated with scCO2 suggests that the observed dependence of χ12 and χ13 on pressure are related to the magnitude of scCO2 density fluctuations and the proximity of the system to the so-called density fluctuation ridge. By tuning the system parameters of the multicomponent mixture, the phase behavior can be altered through the balance of pairwise interactions been the constituent species. The presence of scCO2 in the mixtures appears to eliminate the existence of the metastable state that epitomizes most polymer-polymer mixtures. Thus it is shown that knowledge of the individual pairwise interactions in such multicomponent mixtures can greatly influence the resulting phase behavior, and provide insight into the design of improved functional materials with decreased environmental impacts.

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