A Thermoplastic/Thermoset Blend Exhibiting Thermal Mending and Reversible Adhesion

In this paper, we report on the development of a new and broadly applicable strategy to produce thermally mendable polymeric materials, demonstrated with an epoxy/poly(ϵ-caprolactone) (PCL) phase-separated blend. The initially miscible blend composed of 15.5 wt % PCL undergoes polymerization-induced phase separation during cross-linking of the epoxy, yielding a “bricks and mortar” morphology wherein the epoxy phase exists as interconnected spheres (bricks) interpenetrated with a percolating PCL matrix (mortar). The fully cured material is stiff, strong, and durable. A heating-induced “bleeding” behavior was witnessed in the form of spontaneous wetting of all free surfaces by the molten PCL phase, and this bleeding is capable of repairing damage by crack-wicking and subsequent recrystallization with only minor concomitant softening during that process. The observed bleeding is attributed to volumetric thermal expansion of PCL above its melting point in excess of epoxy brick expansion, which we term differential expansive bleeding (DEB). In controlled thermal-mending experiments, heating of a cracked specimen led to PCL extrusion from the bulk to yield a liquid layer bridging the crack gap. Upon cooling, a “scar” composed of PCL crystals formed at the site of the crack, restoring a significant portion of the mechanical strength. When a moderate force was applied to assist crack closure, thermal-mending efficiencies exceeded 100%. We further observed that the DEB phenomenon enables strong and facile adhesion of the same material to itself and to a variety of materials, without any requirement for macroscopic softening or flow.