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Enhancing the mechanical properties of biodegradable polymer blends using tubular nanoparticle stitching of the interfaces

"Green" polymer nanocomposites were made by melt blending biodegradable poly (lactic acid) (PLA) and poly (butylene adipate-co-butylene terephthalate) (PBAT) with either montmorillonite clays (Cloisite Na +), and halloysite nanotubes (HNTs), the resorcinol diphenyl phosphate (RDP)-coated Cloisite Na +, and coated HNTs.  A technique for measuring the work of adhesion (W a) between nanopoarticles and their matrixes was used to determine the dispersion preference of the nanoparticles in the PLA/PBAT blend system.  Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) images of thin sections indicated that even though both RDP-coated nanotubes and clay platelets segregated to the interfacial regions between the two immisicible polymers, only the platelets, having the larger specific surface area, were able to reduce the PBAT domain sizes.  The ability of clay platelets to partially compatibilize the blend was further confirmed by the dynamic mechanical analysis (DMA) which showed that the glass transition temperatures of two polymers tended to shift closer.  No shift was observed with either coated or uncoated HNTs samples.  Izod impact testing demonstrated that the rubbery PBAT phase greatly increased the impact strength of the unfilled blend, but addition of only 5% of treated clay decreased the impact strength by nearly 50%.  On the other hand, an increase of 9% relative to the unfilled blend sample was observed with the addition of 5% treated nanotubes.  TEM cross-section analysis confirmed that the RDP-coated clay platelets covered most of the interfacial area.  On one hand, this enabled them to reduce the interfacial tension effictively; on the other hand, it prevented chain entanglements across the phase boundary and increased the overall brittleness, which was confirmed by rheology measurements.  In contrast, the RDP-coated HNTs were observed to lie perpendicular to the interface, which made them less effictive in reducing interfacial tension but encouraged interfacial entanglements across the interface, resulting in "stitching" of the interface and an increase in the Izod impact of the blend.

*Guo Y, He S, Yang K, Xue Y, Zuo X, Yu Y, Liu Y, Chang C, Rafailovich M. ACS Appl. Mater. Interface 2016; 8:17565