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Polymer-Grafted Cellulose Nanofibrils with Enhanced Interfacial Compatibility for Stronger Poly(lactic acid) Composites

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-04-25, 13:35 authored by Peter V. Kelly, Siamak Shams Es-haghi, Meghan E. Lamm, Katie Copenhaver, Soydan Ozcan, Douglas J. Gardner, William M. Gramlich
Cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs) are a promising reinforcement for biodegradable composite matrices such as poly(lactic acid) (PLA), but they require commercially scalable drying methods that preserve their fibrillar morphology along with improved interfacial interactions with polymer matrices. In this work, a water-based grafting-through polymerization scheme to modify CNFs improved spray drying behavior and reinforcement capacity in PLA composites. All polymer modifications yielded CNFs with a more fibrillar morphology after spray drying, increasing specific surface area by up to 490% compared to unmodified CNFs, values similar to conventional freeze drying. Polymer-grafted CNFs in PLA composites improved the tensile strength by 16% at 20 wt % loading and stiffness by 22% at a 10 wt % loading with two different graft-polymer chemistries compared to unmodified CNF composites. Surface energy heterogeneity measurements of the reinforcements and PLA matrix were employed to understand the improvements in composite properties. Polymer modifications lowered the total surface energy of the CNFs, and calculated ratios of work of adhesion to work of cohesion suggested improved interfacial compatibility for four of the modified CNFs with PLA. Rheological oscillatory shear studies of the composites correlated solid-like melt behavior, as demonstrated by storage moduli dominance, with higher tensile strength. Thermal analysis of the composites revealed that excessive plasticization by the poly(oligoethylene glycol methyl ether methacrylate)-grafted sample potentially offset mechanical property improvements imparted by the more fibrillar morphology. This work provides an opportunity for large-scale manufacturing of CNF/PLA composites via an entirely aqueous modification scheme and industrially relevant spray drying process.

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