Molecular mobility and crystallization of renewable poly(ethylene furanoate) in situ filled with carbon nanotubes and graphene nanoparticles
We investigate the thermal transitions and molecular mobility in new nanocomposites of biobased poly(ethylene furanoate) (PEF), by calorimetry and dielectric spectroscopy, supplemented by X-ray diffraction, Fourier transform infra-red spectroscopy and polarized light microscopy. The emphasis is placed on the facilitation of the crystallization of PEF, which is in general low and slow due to structural limitations that result in poor nucleation. Tuning of the crystalline fraction (CF) and semicrystalline morphology are important for optimization of the mechanical performance and manipulation of the permeation of small molecules (e.g., in packaging applications). The nucleation and CF are successfully improved here by the in situ filling of PEF with 0.5–2.5 wt% of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and graphene nanoplatelets (GNPs). The improvements are discussed in connection with weak or absent interfacial polymer–filler interactions. CNTs were found to be more effective in facilitating crystallization, as compared with GNPs, possibly due to their larger aspect ratio. The segmental dynamics of PEF are both accelerated and decelerated by the addition of GNP and CNT, respectively, with complex phenomena contributing to the effects, namely, nucleation, changes in molar mass and changes in the free volume. The molecular mobility of PEF is moderately affected ‘directly’ by the particles, whereas stronger effects are induced by crystallization (an indirect effect) and, furthermore, by the increase in the length of alkylene sequences on the chain. Local dynamics exhibit time scale disturbances when the temperature approaches that of the glass transition, which is proposed here to be a common characteristic in the case of mobilities originating from the polymer backbone for these as well as different polyesters. Despite the weak effects on molecular mobility, the role of the fillers as nucleating agents seems to be further exploitable in the frame of envisaged applications, as the use of such fillers in combination with thermal treatment offer possibilities for manipulating the semicrystalline morphology, ion transport and, subsequently, permeation of small molecules.