Co-assembly of precision polyurethane ionomers reveals role of and interplay between individual components†
Industrial and household products, such as paints, inks and cosmetics usually consist of mixtures of macromolecules that are disperse in composition, in size and in monomer sequence. Identifying structure–function relationships for these systems is complicated, as particular macromolecular components cannot be investigated individually. For this study, we have addressed this issue, and have synthesized a series of five sequence-defined polyurethanes (PUs): one neutral-hydrophobic, one single-charged hydrophilic, one single-charged hydrophobic and two double-charged amphiphilic PUs (one symmetric and one asymmetric). These novel precision PUs – that were prepared by using stepwise coupling-deprotection synthetic protocols – have a defined composition, size and monomer sequence, where the chosen sequences were inspired by those that are abundantly formed in the production of industrial waterborne PU dispersions. By performing dynamic light scattering experiments (DLS), self-consistent field (SCF) computations and cryogenic transmission electron microscopy (cryo-TEM), we have elucidated the behavior in aqueous solution of the individual precision PUs, as well as of binary and ternary mixtures of the PU sequences. The double-charged PU sequences (‘hosts’) were sufficiently amphiphilic to yield single-component micellar solutions, whereas the two more hydrophobic sequences did not micellize on their own, and gave precipitates or ill-defined larger aggregates. Both the neutral-hydrophobic PU and the hydrophilic single-charged PU were successfully incorporated in the host micelles as guests, respectively increasing and reducing the micelle radius upon incorporation. SCF computations indicated that double-charged symmetric PUs stretch whilst double-charged asymmetric PUs are expelled from the core to accommodate hydrophobic PU guests within the micelles. For the ternary mixture of the double-charged symmetric and asymmetric hosts and the neutral-hydrophobic guest we have found an improved colloidal stability, as compared to those for binary mixtures of either host and hydrophobic guest. In another ternary mixture of precision PUs, with all three components not capable of forming micelles on their own, we see that the ensemble of molecules produces stable micellar solutions. Taken together, we find that the interplay between PU-molecules in aqueous dispersions promotes the formation of stable micellar hydrocolloids.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Polymer Chemistry Pioneering Investigators 2021