The development of analytical techniques for studying degradation in impact polypropylene copolymers
Unstabilised polyolefins are susceptible to degradation when exposed to molecular oxygen, heat, irradiation as well as chemical and mechanical stimuli. Oxidation leads to changes in molecular properties such as molecular weight, molecular weight distribution, chemical composition, chemical composition distribution and crystallisability. Conventional analytical techniques are of limited use when studying the degradation of heterogeneous materials such as impact polypropylene copolymers (ICPP). These copolymers consist of a number of components of different monomer contents, isotacticity and crystallinity, ranging from amorphous EPR to highly crystalline polypropylene. The individual components are affected differently by degradation, leading to heterogeneity within the degradation of impact copolymers. Novel analytical approaches that acknowledge the heterogeneity in sample composition are needed to study the degradation behaviour of such heterogeneous materials. This study describes the combination of fractionation and hyphenated techniques with conventional analyses for extensive structural characterisation of complex impact copolymers as well as their degradation behaviour. Temperature rising elution fractionation (TREF) coupled to conventional techniques such as size exclusion chromatography (SEC), Fourier-Transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), Carbon-13 nuclear magnetic resonance (13C-NMR) and differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) indicated the ICPPs in question to consist of four main components, namely ethylene-propylene random copolymers (EPR), isotactic PP (iPP), as well as semi-crystalline ethylene-propylene copolymers (EPC) and lower isotacticity PP. The degradation of an ICPP was studied by a multi-component analysis procedure consisting of TREF coupled to SEC, 13C-NMR, as well as SEC-FTIR. Results obtained by this procedure indicated the change in crystallisability of the bulk sample observed by TREF, crystallisation analysis fractionation (CRYSTAF) and DSC to be the result of the preferential degradation of the iPP phase. Degradation of ICPPs initiates within this phase where chain scission and carbonyl group insertion leads to a change in the crystallisability of iPP chains. During TREF of degraded bulk ICPPs, the degraded iPP molecules elute at lower elution temperatures, depending on their degree of degradation. The other components of the copolymer were degraded to a lesser extent. Degradation products were also found to be heterogeneously distributed across the molecular weight distribution of each fraction, with a higher concentration appearing at the low molecular weight side. The multi-component analysis procedure was also used to study the difference in degradation behaviour between ICPPs of different comonomer content, isotacticity and crystallinity. The spatial heterogeneity of degradation within ICPPs was studied by Fourier-Transform infrared microspectroscopy (FTIR-μS). A heterogeneous distribution of degradation products was found across the depth of thicker sample specimens. These results were compared to those obtained by conventional layer-by-layer milling followed by SEC, FTIR and CRYSTAF. The principles of degradation within thick samples were similar to that observed for thin films, although additional contributions by sample morphology and oxygen diffusion were detected.