ε‑Decalactone: A Thermoresilient and Toughening Comonomer to Poly(l‑lactide)

The renewable monomer ε-decalactone is an excellent partner to l-lactide, where their copolymers overcome inherent drawbacks of polylactide, such as low thermal stability and brittleness. ε-Decalactone is a seven-membered lactone that was successfully polymerized with Sn­(Oct)2 and 1,5,7-triazabicyclo[4.4.0]­dec-5-ene into both an amorphous homopolymer and copolymers with high molecular weight, low dispersity, and predicted macromolecular architecture. The thermoresilient nature of ε-decalactone is reflected in a high polymerization ceiling temperature and increased thermal stability for the prepared copolymers. The high ceiling temperature enables easy modulation of the polymerization rate via temperature while maintaining architectural control. The apparent rate constant was increased 15-fold when the temperature was increased from 110 to 150 °C. Copolymers of l-lactide and ε-decalactone, either with the latter as a central block in triblock polymers or with randomly positioned monomers, exhibited exceptionally tough material characteristics. The triblock copolymer had an elongation-at-break 250 times greater than that of pure poly­(l-lactide). The toughness of the copolymers is attributed to the flexible nature of the polymer derived from the monomer ε-decalactone and to the segment immiscibility. These properties result in phase separation to soft and hard domains, which provides the basis for the elastomeric behavior.