Synthesis and Characterization of Solution and Melt Processible Poly(acrylonitrile-co-methylacrylate) statistical copolymers

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Virginia Tech

Polyacrylonitrile (PAN) and its copolymers are used in a wide variety of applications ranging from textiles to purification membranes, packaging material and carbon fiber precursors. High performance polyacrylonitrile copolymer fiber is the most dominant precursor for carbon fibers. Synthesis of very high molecular weight poly(acrylonitrile-co-methyl acrylate) copolymers with weight average molecular weights of at least 1.7 million g/mole were synthesized on a laboratory scale using low temperature, emulsion copolymerization in a closed pressure reactor. Single filaments were spun via hybrid dry-jet gel solution spinning. These very high molecular weight copolymers produced precursor fibers with tensile strengths averaging 954 MPa with an elastic modulus of 15.9 GPa (N = 296). The small filament diameters were approximately 5 'm. Results indicated that the low filament diameter that was achieved with a high draw ratio, combined with the hybrid dry-jet gel spinning process lead to an exponential enhancement of the tensile properties of these fibers.

Carbon fibers for polymer matrix composites are currently derived from polyacrylonitrile copolymer fiber precursors where solution spinning accounts for ~40 % of the total fiber production cost. To expand carbon fiber applications into the automotive industry, the cost of the carbon fiber needs to be reduced from $8 to ~$3-5. In order to develop an alternative melt processing route several benign plasticizers have been investigated. A low temperature, persulfate-metabisulfite initiated emulsion copolymerization was developed to synthesize poly(acrylonitrile-co-methyl acrylate) copolymers with acrylonitrile contents between 91-96 wt% with a molecular weight range of 100-200 kg/mol. This method was designed for a potential industrial scale up. Furthermore, water was investigated as a potential melting point depressant for these copolymers. Twenty-five wt% water lead to a decrease in the Tm of a 93/7 wt/wt % poly(acrylonitrile-co-methyl acrylate) of Mw = 200 kg/mol to 160 0C as measured via DSC.

Glycerin, ethylene glycol and glycerin/water combinations were investigated as potential plasticizers for high molecular weight (~200,000 g/mol), high acrylonitrile (93-96 mole:mole %) content poly(acrylonitrile–co-methyl acrylate) statistical copolymers. Pure glycerin (25 wt %) induced crystallization followed by a reduced "Tm" of about 213 °C via DSC. However this composition did not melt process well. A lower MW (~35 kg/mol) copolymer did extrude with no apparent degradation. Our hypothesis is that the hydroxyl groups in glycerin (or water) disrupt the strong dipole-dipole interactions between the chains enabling the copolymer endothermic transition (Tm) to be reduced and enable melting before the onset of degradation. Additionally high molecular weight (Mw = 200-230 kg/mol) poly(acrylonitrile–co-methyl acrylate) copolymers with lower acrylonitrile content (82-85 wt %) were synthesized via emulsion copolymerization and successfully melt pressed. These materials will be further investigated for their utility in packaging applications.

melt processability, polyacrylonitrile, carbon fibers, methyl acrylate, acrylic fibers, plasticizer, solution processing, high tensile modulus