Examining Structure-Morphology-Property Relationships of Novel Styrenic-Based Macromolecules for Emerging Applications

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Virginia Tech

For the first time, triblock copolymers of novel styrenic-based macromolecules were investigated in detail and examined for structure-morphology-performance relationships. We were able to design novel imidazolium- and phosphonium-containing styrenic macromolecules using controlled radical polymerization and conventional free radical polymerization strategies, for a variety of potential applications including electromechanical devices, ionic liquids, adhesives, and lithium-ion batteries. Block copolymers have a unique architecture providing physical crosslinking to behave as thermoplastic elastomers. We preferred ABA triblock copolymers as compared to random and diblock copolymers for improved mechanical performance. ABA triblock copolymers synthesized using nitroxide-mediated polymerization (NMP) of polystyrene external blocks and a charged imidazolium-containing central block, exhibited sufficient modulus and ionic conductivity for electromechanical transducers. We successfully reported the actuation behavior of triblock copolymers in the presence of added ionic liquid for the first time. We proposed that diluting the ion concentration of the ion-rich phase with neutral polymer comonomers that reduces Tg, increases ion dissociation, and potentially maximizes ionic conductivity.

Tendency of ethylene-oxide units to coordinate cations, forming stable crown ether-like, multi-nuclear coordination complexes, promotes solvation and dissociation of ionic aggregates. In situ Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) was used to monitor the thermal polymerization in various acrylate and methacrylate monomers. It was found that acrylates have lower activation energy than methacrylates. The copolymerizations of poly(ethylene glycol)methyl ether acrylate (EG9MEA) and imidazole-containing monomer (VBIm) resulted in controlled polymerization kinetics with narrow molecular weight distributions. The control behavior of the copolymerizations is likely attributed to the observed decrease in calculated apparent rate constants for the copolymerizations with addition of VBIm as comonomer. Reversible addition fragmentation transfer (RAFT) successfully synthesized well-defined A-BC-A triblock copolymers containing a synergy of pendant ether and imidazolium sites. We demonstrated that electromechanical transducers derived from these triblock copolymer membranes with added ionic liquid showed superior actuation performance compared to a benchmark Nafion® membrane, suggesting potential for ionic polymer device applications. This was attributed to optimum modulus, improved ionic conductivity, and microphase-separated morphology of triblock copolymers.

Conventional free radical polymerization and anion metathesis of 4-(diphenylphosphino)styrene (DPPS) successfully generated high molecular weight triaryl phosphine-containing copolymers. These macromolecules have no -CH2 group at the benzylic position increasing the thermal stability of the DPPS-containing polymers. Counterion exchange to fluorinated, bulkier anions broadened the library of polyelectrolytes, led to improved thermal stabilities, lower glass transition temperatures, and tunable wetting behavior. We also reported the synthesis of salt-responsive copolymers using conventional free radical polymerization. Adhesive performance measurements such as peel tests and probe tack enforced the application of these polymers as pressure sensitive adhesives.

We also demonstrated the synthesis and subsequent neutralization of novel, well-defined A-BC-A triblock copolymers containing a soft central 'BC' block consisting of Sty-Tf2N and DEGMEMA with polystyrene external blocks. Sty-Tf2N monomer enables an important delocalization of the negative charge. Li+ has weak interactions with this anionic structure, consequently enabling a high dissociation level. Li+ ions are associated to the polymer chain to produce high transport numbers. Furthermore, incorporating DEGMEMA lowers the Tg of the charged block copolymers, thereby increasing the segmental mobility and thus ionic conductivity. Finally, the structure-property-morphology study of these triblock copolymers will be helpful for their use in potential applications such as ion-containing membranes, lithium-ion batteries.

imidazole, triblock copolymers, reversible addition-fragmentation polymerization, ion conductivity