Processing-Structure-Property Studies of: I) Submicron Polymeric Fibers Produced By Electrospinning and II) Films Of Linear Low Density Polyethylenes As Influenced By The Short Chain Branch Length In Copolymers Of Ethylene/1-Butene, Ethylene/1-Hexene & Ethylene/1-Octene Synthesized By A Single Site Metallocene Catalyst

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Virginia Tech

The overall theme of the research discussed in this dissertation has been to explore processing-structure-property relationships for submicron polymeric fibers produced by electrospinning (Part I) and to ascertain whether or not the length of the short chain branch has any effect on the physical properties of films of linear low-density polyethylenes (LLDPEs) (Part II). Electrospinning is a unique process to produce submicron fibers (as thin as 100 nm) that have a diameter at least two orders of magnitude smaller than the conventional fiber spinning processes based on melt and solution spinning. As a result, the electrospun fibers have a very high specific surface. The research efforts discussed in Part I of this dissertation relate to some fundamental as well as more applied investigations involving electrospinning. These include investigating the effects of solution rheology on fiber formation and developing novel methodologies to fabricate polymeric mats comprising of high specific surface submicron fibers of more than one polymer, high chemical resistant substrates produced by in situ photo crosslinking during electrospinning, superparamagnetic flexible substrates by electrospinning a solution of an elastomeric polymer containing ferrite nanoparticles of Mn-Zn-Ni and substrates for filtration applications. More specifically, it was found that the solution rheological parameters like concentration and viscosity, in addition to molecular weight play an important role in governing the fiber formation during electrospinning of polymer solutions. Furthermore, it was found that fiber formation depends strongly on the solution concentration regime, i.e., at low and dilute concentrations, droplets and beaded fibers were formed whereas uniform fibers were observed to form at a solution concentration greater than at least six times than that of the critical chain overlap concentration, c*, for linear homopolymers of poly(methyl methacrylate) that had molecular weight distributions ranging from 1.03-1.35 (Mw/Mn). In contrast, uniform fibers were observed at ten times the value of c* for the relatively broader molecular weight polymers (Mw/Mn~1.6-2.1). Novel methodologies were developed to in situ photocrosslink the electrospun jet to produce a crosslinked network in the form of a submicron fiber that could potentially be utilized for applications where a high resistance to chemical environments is required. In addition, flexible superparamagnetic substrates were developed by electrospinning a solution of an elastomeric polymer containing magnetic nanoparticles based on "mixed" ferrites of Mn-Zn-Ni where the specific saturation magnetization and the magnetic permeability of these substrates were found to increase linearly with the wt% loading of the nanoparticles. The methodology to simultaneously electrospin two polymer solutions in a side-by-side fashion was developed to produce bicomponent fibers with the rationale that the resulting electrospun mat will have properties from a combination from each of the polymer components. Bicomponent electrospinning of poly(vinyl chloride)- polyurethane and poly(vinylidiene fluoride)-polyurethane was successfully performed. In addition, filtration properties of single and bicomponent electrospun mats of polyacrylonitrile and polystyrene were investigated. Results indicated lower aerosol penetration or higher filtration efficiencies of the filters based on submicron electrospun fibers in comparison to the conventional filter materials.

In addition, Part II of this dissertation explores whether or not the length of the short chain branch affects the physical properties of blown and compression molded films of LLDPEs that were synthesized by a single site metallocene catalyst. Here, three resins based on copolymers of ethylene/1-butene, ethylene/1-hexene, and ethylene/1-octene were utilized that were very similar in terms of their molecular weight and distribution, melt rheology, density, crystallinity and short chain branching content and its distribution. Interestingly, at higher deformation rates (ca. 1m/s), the breaking, tear and impact strengths of films based on ethylene/1-hexene and ethylene/1-octene were found to be superior than those based on ethylene/1-butene. While the origin of these differences in mechanical properties with increasing short chain branch length was not fully understood, the present investigation did confirm this effect to be pronounced only at high deformation rates for both the blown and compression molded LLDPE films.

Polyethylene, Processing-Structure-Property Studies, Electrospinning