The largest use of polyurethane (PU) is as closed cell rigid foams for thermal insulation. One problem is loss of blowing gases, which leads to slow increase in thermal conductivity. PU composites with plate-like nanofillers create a diffusion barrier, reducing gas transport and slowing insulation aging. In this research, a new in situ intercalative polymerization is described to disperse vermiculite (VMT) in PU. When VMT was modified by cation exchange with long-chain quaternary ammonium, the dispersion in methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) was significantly improved. Dispersion of clay in MDI was further improved by combining high intensity dispersive mixing with a polyol-clay preblend (master-batch). The VMT dispersibility was characterized using rheology, microscopy, and X-ray scattering/diffraction. With the method of polyol-assisted VMT dispersion, electron microscopy revealed extensive intercalation and exfoliation of clay particles. In contrast, simple mixing of organoclay in MDI resulted in macroscopic localization and poor distribution of clay particles in PU. The final nanocomposites prepared by the master-batch method showed enhancement of mechanical properties (85% increase in elastic modulus) and reduction in permeability to CO2, as much as 40%, at a low clay concentration of 3.3 wt %.
- gas barrier
- polymer-clay nanocomposite