Programming structural functions in phase-segregated polymers by implementing a defined thermomechanical history


Unwanted shrinkage behaviors or failure in structural functions such as mechanical strength or deformability of polymeric products related to their thermomechanical history are a major challenge in production of plastics. Here, we address the question whether we can turn this challenge into an opportunity by creating defined thermomechanical histories in polymers, represented by a specific morphology and nanostructure, to equip polymeric shaped bodies with desired functions, e.g. a temperature-memory, by hot, warm or cold deformation into multiblock copolymers having two partially overlapping melting transitions. A copolyesterurethane named PDLCL, consisting of poly(ε-caprolactone) (PCL) and poly(ω-pentadecalactone) (PPDL) crystalline domains, exhibiting a pronounced phase-segregated morphology and partially overlapping melting transitions was selected for this study. Different types of PCL and PPDL crystals as well as distinct degrees of orientation in both amorphous and crystalline domains were obtained after deformation at 20 or 40 °C and to a lower extent at 60 °C. The generated non-isotropic structures were stable at ambient temperature and represent the different stresses stored. Stress-free heating experiments showed that the relaxation in both amorphous and crystalline phases occurred predominantly with melting of PCL crystals. When the switching temperature, which was similar to the applied deformation temperature (temperature-memory), was exceeded in stress-free heating experiments, the implemented thermomechanical history could be reversed. In contrast, during constant-strain heating to 60 °C the generated structural features remained almost unchanged. These findings provide insights about the structure function relation in multiblock copolymers with two crystalline phases exhibiting a temperature-memory effect by implementation of specific thermomechanical histories, which might be a general principle for tailoring other functions like mechanical strength or deformability in polymers.
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