Selective localization of graphene in co-continuous polymer blends is an attractive method for preparing conductive polymer composites. Localization of graphene at the interface between the two polymer phases produces good conductivity at ultra-low concentrations. Although graphene localization is ultimately dependent on thermodynamic factors such as the surface energy of graphene and the two polymer components, kinetics also strongly affects the migration and localization of graphene in polymer blends during melt compounding. However, few studies have systemically investigated the important role of kinetics on graphene localization. Here, we introduced graphene nanoplatelets (GNPs) in polylactic acid (PLA)/polystyrene (PS) co-continuous polymer blends. Although GNPs in thermal equilibrium prefer the PS phase, we were able to kinetically trap GNPs at the interface of polymer blends via control of melt-compounding sequences, mixing times and shear rates. Utilizing morphological, rheological, and electrical measurements, we verified graphene localization and the suppression of coarsening in co-continuous polymer blends during annealing. When GNPs were premixed with the thermodynamically less-favorable PLA phase before mixing with the PS phase, GNPs can be kinetically trapped at the interface during melt compounding. Moreover, we show that a shorter melt-compounding time gives rise to a higher GNP interfacial coverage and a more effective morphology stabilization effect. Blends with as low as 0.5 wt % GNPs with only 30 s of melt compounding have a room-temperature conductivity of ∼10-6 S/cm, which is larger than blends with longer melt-compounding times and potentially useful for antistatic materials. The in-depth study on the kinetics of graphene localization in our work provides a general guideline for the kinetic control of the localization of platelike nanofillers in polymer blends. Our study also demonstrates a facile method for manufacturing conductive polymer blends with low percolation thresholds.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors are grateful to Dr. Sung Cik Mun for his help in average size and thickness characterization of GNPs. The project is funded by the Joint Polymer Processing Grant by Petroleum Institute (No. 3006-11093-00036476) and U.S. National Science Foundation (No. CMMI-1661666).
© 2017 American Chemical Society.