Structure-Property Relationships of Alicyclic Polyesters

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Virginia Tech


Polyesters are an important class of polymers in many applications ranging from common-use objects—such as packaging containers, clothing, and upholstery—to more advanced applications, such as lightweight strength materials in construction, electronics, and automotive parts. Poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET), a semicrystalline aromatic polyester, is commercially the most common and widely used polyester. However, the inability to reuse polyesters such as PET over multiple reprocessing cycles in the same application remains a challenge due to the susceptibility of the polymer to thermal, hydrolytic, and oxidative degradation during melt processing. The various degradation modes result in a drop in molecular weight, loss of key physical properties, and release of volatile compounds. Furthermore, the vast issue of plastic accumulation and pollution in diverse ecosystems, landfills, and waste streams underscores the burgeoning need to create a closed loop—responsible materials management from the cradle to the grave—through these materials' continual reuse and recycling. Additionally, most feedstock monomers used in polyester synthesis primarily come from fossil fuels. Fossil fuel extraction processes release gases and particulate matter that adversely affect health, climate, and the environment, so finding alternative sources for polyester monomers is paramount. This dissertation addresses key polyester challenges by designing and synthesizing alicyclic polyesters. First, we synthesized a series of alicyclic polyesters using various ratios of two regioisomers of a previously unexplored alicyclic monomer, bicyclohexyldimethanol (BCD). We learned from this alicyclic polyester series that we could tailor properties such as morphology and elongation while raising the glass transition temperatures (Tg) and lower melting temperatures (Tm) of the polymers based on the regioisomer composition. Furthermore, the regioisomer that led to polymers with semicrystalline morphologies inspired us to apply it to PET as a copolymer, with the goal of increasing PET's stability under melt processing conditions by lowering Tm. Next, we synthesized a series of alicyclic copolyesters with different BCD compositions in the polymer. The results showed that the presence of the alicyclic rings of BCD lowers the melting temperature and enhances the stability of the polymer in the melt compared to PET. These results directed us toward synergistically combining the benefits of alicyclic monomers with sustainable biobased monomers to enhance polyester properties, thereby decoupling fossil fuels from polymer feedstock production. Accordingly, we explored naturally ubiquitous, structurally diverse, and chemically modifiable terpenes present in the resin exudate of conifers. Specifically, we derived alicyclic diacid and diol monomers from the terpene verbenone and used them to synthesize a series of biobased alicyclic polyesters. The polymer series exhibited a range of morphologies, Tg's, as well as enhanced stabilities. The semicrystalline composition exhibited higher Tg and slightly lower Tm than PET while possessing exceptional stability in the melt over PET.



biobased polyesters, structure-property relationships, alicyclic monomers, alicyclic copolyesters, melt-phase polymerization