Foam-enhanced devolatilization of polystyrene melt in a vented extruder



Vented extruder devolatilization (DV) of PS melt containing 6,000 ppm styrene was studied by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and video photography. Vacuum DV of a polymer is accompanied by foaming, which starts instantaneously upon supersaturation of the stretched melt and is enhanced at higher speeds of the vented extruder screw. As the volatiles are removed from the melt, foaming gradually ceases, starting with the pushing flight of the screw. The experimental installation design allowed us to quench the polymer melt in the DV zone at various stages of the process. Samples taken from four areas of the channel width were investigated by SEM. Bubble nucleation in the melt appears to take place mainly in the border area adjoining the gas phase. In the shear field caused by screw rotation, large bubbles become noticeably elongated. Their surface, as well as the free surface of the melt, is covered with blisters, 1–100 μm in size. Microblisters are often concentrated in areas subjected to stretching. Calculations of cooling due to volatile evaporation and of heating due to viscous dissipation near a growing bubble shows that the process of foam-enhanced DV of a PS/styrene system can be regarded isothermal if the initial volatile concentration does not exceed approximately 1%.