Effect of interfacial pretreatment on the properties of montmorillonite/poly(vinyl alcohol) nanocomposites

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This work explores the factors that control the dispersion of exfoliated montmorillonite (MMT) in poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVOH) during solution blending and solvent evaporation. Nanocomposite films were prepared by solution blending of aqueous PVOH solutions with dilute suspensions of fully exfoliated MMT platelets (as confirmed by AFM). Dynamic light scattering (DLS) indicates that addition of MMT suspensions to PVOH solutions results in undesired particle aggregation and thus poor MMT dispersion in cast films (as evidenced by transmission electron microscopic images and gas permeation measurements). We believe that PVOH bridging induces MMT platelet aggregation. To counteract bridging aggregation, we explore the novel idea of pretreating the MMT surface with a small amount of compatible polymer prior to solution blending with PVOH. We hypothesize that “pretreating” the MMT platelet surfaces with adsorbed polymer in dilute suspensions will protect the platelets from bridging aggregation during solution blending and solvent evaporation. MMT/PVOH composite films have been prepared using low‐molecular‐weight PVOH as the pretreatment polymer; and low‐, medium‐, and high‐molecular‐weight PVOH as the matrix polymer. A PEO‐PPO‐PEO triblock copolymer (F108 from the Pluronics® family) was also evaluated as the pretreatment polymer. DLS shows that pretreated MMT platelets are less susceptible to aggregation during blending with PVOH solutions. Results compare the crystalline structure, thermal properties, dynamic mechanical properties, gas permeability, and dissolution behavior of MMT/PVOH films incorporating untreated versus pretreated MMT. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J. Appl. Polym. Sci. 2015, 132, 41867.