This thesis is focused on applying modification chemistry to already known cellulosic substrates from wood (i.e. cellulose nanofibrils, CNFs, and cellulose nanocrystals, CNCs). The modification is needed to overcome the drawbacks with the nanocellulosics alone, such as sensitivity to water (hydrophilicity) and the brittle material properties (however great stiffness). The first aim is to incorporate nanocellulosics into hydrophobic degradable materials of poly(ε-caprolactone) (PCL), resulting in aggregation if not modified. The challenge is to reach high fraction of nanocellulosics, whilst maintaining the flexibility of PCL and improving the properties of the resulting nanocomposite with the corresponding stiffness of the nanocellulosics. The second aim is to increase toughness and strain-at-break for nanocomposite materials of CNF-networks, to increase the plastic deformation equivalent of fossil-based polymeric materials such as polypropylene (PP). Aiming to achieve these goals, the thesis also includes new synthetic strategies of tailored-made set of block copolymers as modifying components. The modifying components, were synthesised by surfactant-free emulsion polymerisation and polymerisation induced self-assembly (PISA), so called PISA-latexes.

Two types of cationic polyelectrolytes, (poly(2-dimethylaminoethy methacrylate) (PDMAEMA) and poly(N-[3-(dimethylamino)propyl] methacrylamide (PDMAPMA)), being the corona of the latex, were synthesised. Followed by chain-extension with different hydrophobic monomers such as methyl methacrylate and butyl methacrylate, making up the core polymer of the resulting PISA-latex. The cationic PISA-latexes show narrow size distributions and the glass transition (Tg) of the core polymer can be varied between -40 °C to 150 °C. The PISA-latexes show strong adhesion to silica and cellulose surfaces as assessed by quartz crystal microbalance (QCM-D). Results also indicate that latexes with Tg below room temperature, considered soft, behave different in the wet state than latexes with Tg above room temperature, considered rigid. The softer latexes form clusters (visualised by imaging with microscopy and atomic force measurements (AFM)) and undergo film formation in the wet state. The latter, shown by colloidal probe measurements using AFM resulting in very large work of adhesion and pull-off forces.

The PISA-latexes compatibilize CNCs and different CNFs with PCL as a matrix polymer, observed by a small increase in stiffness for the final nanocomposites, however not at a level expected by rule-of-mixtures. The promising wet feeding technique results in large increase in stiffness but maintain PCL’s flexibility, above 200% strain-at-break, which is rarely observed for CNF-reinforced nanocomposites. The, in this case, rigid latex facilitate the dispersion of CNFs in the matrix without aggregation, until finally coalescing after processing and possibly giving rise to improved adhesion between CNF and the latex in the matrix, indicated by rheology measurements. Lastly, new nanocomposite films consisting of 75wt% CNF and 25wt% of PISA-latexes were produced and evaluated. The results show that CNF and rigid 100 nm sized PISA-latex, with PMMA core, gives a very tough double network, with strain-at-break above 28%, stiffness of 3.5 GPa and a strength of 110 MPa. These are impressive properties compared to commonly used fossil-based plastic materials.

Supervisor: Eva Malmström, KTH