Reclamation and Reprocessing of Thermotropic Liquid Crystalline Polymer from Composites of Polypropylene Reinforced with Liquid Crystalline Polymer
Collier, Monty C.
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The composites industry can be positively influenced by composite materials that are processed faster, are lighter in weight, are higher in stiffness and strength, and that are more recyclable. There has been considerable interest in the use of thermotropic liquid crystalline polymers (TLCPs) to reinforce thermoplastic materials. In a novel process developed by Baird and coworkers, wholly thermoplastic composites are produced via a patented, dual extrusion process. This unique process yields a fiber which consists of numerous continuous fibrils of the liquid crystalline polymer encased in a thermoplastic matrix. These fibers have been used to form random mats and woven pre-forms, which have then been compression molded to form composite parts. Because of the high cost associated with these thermotropic liquid crystalline polymers and the desire to generate recyclable composites, a process was developed in this research to separate the liquid crystalline component from polypropylene (PP) composites. The overall objectives of this work were to develop a process to reclaim the liquid crystalline component of these thermoplastic composites, to determine the effect the process had on the properties of the reclaimed liquid crystalline polymer, and finally to determine whether or not the reclaimed liquid crystalline polymer could be used again to generate a reinforcing component. An ancillary objective was to see if the polypropylene could also be reclaimed, and if it had further use as a polymeric resin. In the present work, a novel process was developed that allows the liquid crystalline component to be reclaimed for further use in the composite material or in other applications that require thermotropic liquid crystalline polymers. The polypropylene component, which has undergone molecular weight reduction, can also be reclaimed by this process. This process consisted of using an organic peroxide and reactive extrusion to selectively degrade only the polypropylene, and not the thermotropic liquid crystalline polymer. The degraded polypropylene was selectively dissolved away from the liquid crystalline polymer by stirring the extruded melt in boiling mineral oil. The remaining solids, of thermotropic liquid crystalline polymer, were collected via centrifugation, cleaned of the mineral oil by boiling in kerosene, and then dried in a convection oven. The purity of the reclaimed thermotropic liquid crystalline polymer was determined by density measurements, while the physical properties of the reclaimed material were determined by rheological tests. The mechanical properties were determined via Instron testing of injection molded plaques made from mixtures of reclaimed material and pure thermotropic liquid crystalline polymer. From this work, it was found that over 70 wt% of the thermotropic liquid crystalline polymer, DuPont HX8000, could be successfully separated from the polypropylene to a degree of 96.0%. From Instron testing, it was found that up to 40 wt% of the reclaimed HX8000 could be blended with the pure HX8000, with no loss in mechanical properties. Furthermore, it was seen that up to 83 % of the HX8000 component (40 wt%) of PP 6523 (60 wt%) composites could be replaced with reclaimed HX8000 without seeing any losses in mechanical properties. It was also found that the degraded polypropylene could be successfully separated, via centrifugation at a temperature of 253 K, and could be potentially used as resin for non-wovens. The projected material cost of the reclaimed HX8000, based on the ability to purchase and to process in bulk, was determined to be 90 % less than the virgin HX8000.
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