Toward strong self-healing polyisoprene elastomers with dynamic ionic crosslinks†
To compromise high mechanical strength and efficient self-healing capability in an elastomer with dynamic crosslinks, optimization of the molecular structure is crucial in addition to the tuning of the dynamic properties of the crosslinks. Herein, we studied the effects of molecular weight, content of carboxy groups, and neutralization level of ionically crosslinked polyisoprene (PI) elastomers on their morphology, network rearrangement behavior, and self-healing and mechanical properties. In this PI elastomer, nanosized sphere-shaped ionic aggregates are formed by both neutralized and non-neutralized carboxy groups that act as stickers. The number density of the ionic aggregates that act as physical crosslinks increased with increase in the stickers’ concentration, although the size of the ionic aggregates was independent of the molecular weight and the stickers’ concentration. The ionic network was dynamically rearranged by the stickers’ hopping between the ionic aggregates, and the rearrangement was accelerated by decreasing the neutralization level. We found that the 2Rg of the PI must be significantly larger than the average distance between the ionic aggregates to obtain a mechanically strong PI elastomer. We also found that further increase in the molecular weight is effective to enhance the dimensional stability of the elastomer. However, this approach reduced the elastomer's self-healing rate at the same time because the diffusion and randomization of the polymer chains between the damaged faces were reduced. In this work, we clearly demonstrated the principle in the optimization of the molecular structure for the ionically crosslinked PI elastomers to tune the mechanical and autonomous self-healing properties.