|531. Steube, M.; Johann, T.; Hübner, H.; Koch, M.; Gallei, M.; Floudas, G.; Frey, H.; Müller, A.H.E.: Tetrahydrofuran: More Than a “Randomizer” in the Living Anionic Copolymerization of Styrene and Isoprene: Kinetics, Microstructures, Morphologies, and Mechanical Properties, Macromolecules 53, 5512 (2020) -- DOI: 10.1021/acs.macromol.0c01022|
The statistical anionic copolymerization of isoprene (I) and styrene (S) is commonly used to synthesize tapered block copolymers, enabling control of the phase behavior by adjusting the order–disorder transition temperature, TODT. Alkyllithium initiation in hydrocarbons is known to afford tapered block copolymers of I and S in one step. The effect of tetrahydrofuran (THF) on the copolymerization kinetics and the resulting copolymers was systematically investigated by increasing the [THF]/[Li] ratio from 0 to 2500 (0 to 29%vol THF). For this purpose, in situ near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy was employed as a versatile and fast method to track the highly accelerated consumption of the individual monomers. Changes in the I/S comonomer sequence and in the polyisoprene (PI) regioisomers, caused by variation of the THF concentration, were independently determined via NMR and in situ NIR spectroscopy. Reactivity ratios were determined as a function of the [THF]/[Li] ratio. They revealed a gradual reversal from rI ≫ rS over rI ≈ rS to rI ≪ rS. Corresponding changes in the copolymer composition profile up to a complete inversion are evident in thermal properties and morphologies. Although all copolymers possess the same comonomer composition (50%mol = 57%vol polystyrene (PS) units), small-angle X-ray scattering and transmission electron microscopy give evidence of a wide variation in bulk morphologies depending on the gradient profile. Overall, the phase diagram is symmetric, and the succession of phases bears certain similarities to the PI-b-PS case. This is discussed in terms of the increasing incompatibility of PS with 3,4-PI and the more symmetric polymer conformational parameter. The degree of segregation, as well as the nanodomain structure, was found to control the mechanical properties, showing a remarkably different viscoelastic response leading to either hard/brittle or ductile/soft materials. The accessibility of tailored gradient profiles, as well as their in-depth understanding by simply using THF as a microstructural modifier, opens a variety of possible applications. As an example, the synthesis of a PI-selective hydrogenated tapered triblock, possessing a THF-modified, phase-compatibilizing tapered block incorporated in the well-established SIS block architecture, is presented.