Novel analytical approaches for studying degradation in polypropylene and propylene-1-pentene copolymers

De Goede, Stefan (2006-03)

Thesis (DSc (Chemistry and Polymer Science))--University of Stellenbosch, 2006.


Commercial polyolefins degrade under the influence of light, heat, chemical and mechanical factors. They are therefore stabilised to ensure that they maintain performance characteristics during their service life. Degradation results in changes in the molar mass, molar mass distribution, chemical composition and chemical composition distribution. Classical analytical techniques only provide averaged values of these properties. Much information is available in the open literature on the changes in molar mass, molar mass distribution and chemical composition of polypropylene upon degradation, but no information was available on the changes in chemical composition distribution (CCD) during degradation. This study describes the use of the following analytical techniques to study this: temperature rising elution fractionation (TREF), crystallisation analysis fractionation (CRYSTAF) and coupled size exclusion chromatography-Fourier transform infrared analysis (SEC-FTIR). The CRYSTAF results complimented those obtained by classical techniques: there was a broadening of the crystallisation peak (CCD), an increase in the soluble fraction and a decrease in crystallisation temperatures. SEC-FTIR analysis showed that most of the degraded products were concentrated in the low molar mass regions. TREF analysis was used to separate a degraded sample into fractions of different degrees of degradation. It was then possible to study the spatial heterogeneity in a thick, degraded polypropylene sample using SEC, FTIR and CRYSTAF. The degradation behaviour of selected Sasol propylene-1-pentene random copolymers was investigated. CRYSTAF, SEC-FTIR and TREF analyses provided information on the thermo-oxidative degradation behaviour differences between unstabilised polypropylene homopolymers and these propylene-1-pentene copolymers. It was found that the pentene copolymers degraded significantly faster compared to the homopolymers, even at low levels of pentene (< 3%). The reduction in stability was virtually linear with an increase in pentene content (up to 8 mol% pentene), indicating that higher levels of primary stabilisers are needed to ensure similar life spans for the Sasol propylene-1-pentene copolymers. The extrusion stability of the propylene-1-pentene copolymers was, however, similar to that of the polypropylene homopolymers, indicating that similar processing stabiliser packages may be used.

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