Extractable Free Polymer Chains Enhance Actuation Performance of Crystallizable Poly(Epsilon-caprolactone) Networks and Enable Self-Healing


Crosslinking of thermoplastics is a versatile method to create crystallizable polymer networks, which are of high interest for shape-memory actuators. Here, crosslinked poly(ε-caprolactone) thermosets (cPCLs) were prepared from linear starting material, whereby the amount of extractable polymer was varied. Fractions of 5–60 wt % of non-crosslinked polymer chains, which freely interpenetrate the crosslinked network, were achieved leading to differences in the resulting phase of the bulk material. This can be described as “sponge-like” with open or closed compartments depending on the amount of interpenetrating polymer. The crosslinking density and the average network chain length remained in a similar range for all network structures, while the theoretical accessible volume for reptation of the free polymer content is affected. This feature could influence or introduce new functions into the material created by thermomechanical treatment. The effect of interpenetrating PCL in cPCLs on the reversible actuation was analyzed by cyclic, uniaxial tensile tests. Here, high reversible strains of up to ∆ε = 24% showed the enhanced actuation performance of networks with a non-crosslinked PCL content of 30 wt % resulting from the crystal formation in the phase of the non-crosslinked PCL and co-crystallization with network structures. Additional functionalities are reprogrammability and self-healing capabilities for networks with high contents of extractable polymer enabling reusability and providing durable actuator materials.
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