Curing and viscoelasticity of vitrimers
We present an experimental investigation of the curing kinetics and viscoelasticity for a number of “vitrimers” recently developed by Leibler and coworkers.1–3 Vitrimers are covalently crosslinked networks that can relax stress at elevated temperatures due to thermoreversible bond-exchange reactions. The chosen formulations are composed of diglycidyl ether of bisphenol A, commercial fatty acid mixtures and an appropriate catalyst. The effects of the catalyst and functionality of the curing agents on the kinetics of the curing reactions were systematically investigated using rheometry. The curing kinetics followed the Arrhenius law and the catalyst drastically accelerated the reactions. Time-temperature superposition was used to construct master curves of the small-strain amplitude oscillatory shear moduli over wide ranges of frequencies for the cured networks. Terminal relaxation was not reached in oscillatory experiments for temperatures up to 130 °C and creep and stress relaxation experiments were used to probe the long-time relaxation. The shift factors displayed a Williams–Landel–Ferry dependence on temperature which could be divided into two regions, one above 70 °C, where the dynamics appeared to be controlled by the catalyst, and one below, controlled by the monomeric friction and the free volume of the network. The moduli of the vitrimers obeyed the classical rubber theory well, indicating that the curing reactions proceeded to completion. Furthermore, we systematically and reproducibly observed a double relaxation behavior for the vitrimers, i.e. next to the rubbery plateau at high frequencies, the storage modulus displayed a secondary plateau at lower frequencies before reaching terminal relaxation at even lower frequencies. Interestingly, 70 °C was found to be the transition point in agreement with the shift factors. To the best of our knowledge, the double relaxation behavior has not been previously reported in experimental works and recent theories do not incorporate an explanation for this behavior. Consequently, future investigations concerning the viscoelasticity of other “vitrimer-chemistries” are important to assess if the double relaxation is a universal fingerprint for vitrimers or if it is specific to the here-investigated formulations based on commercial fatty acid mixtures.