Particle size distribution control in emulsion polymerization



Effects of the operating policies—the initial initiator amount; the initial emulsifier amount; the monomer addition mode: batch or semibatch; and the monomer addition rate under “monomer-starved conditions” for the control of particle size distribution (PSD)—were studied through a model that simulates batch and semibatch reactor operations in conventional emulsion polymerization. The population balance model incorporates both the nucleation stage and the growth stage. The full PSDs were reported, which have normally been omitted in earlier studies. It was shown through simulations that the broadness of the distributions, both initial (obtained after the end of nucleation) and final (after complete conversion of monomer), can be controlled by the initial initiator amount and the emulsifier amount. The higher initiator amounts and the lower emulsifier amounts favor narrower initial and final distributions. The shape of the initial PSDs and the trends in the average size and range were preserved with subsequent addition of monomer in the batch or in the semibatch mode, although the final PSD was always considerably narrower than that of the initial PSD. The addition of monomer in the semibatch mode gave narrower distribution compared to that of the batch mode, and also, lower monomer addition rates gave narrower distributions (larger average sizes), which was a new result. It was further shown through simulations that, under monomer-starved conditions, the reaction rate closely matched the monomer feed rate. These conclusions are explained (1) qualitatively—the shorter the length of the nucleation stage and the larger the length of the growth stage (provided the number of particles remains the same), the narrower is the distribution; and (2) mathematically—in terms of the “self-sharpening” effect. Experimental evidence in favor of the self-sharpening effect was given by analyzing the experimental particle size distributions in detail. The practical significance of this work was proposed. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Appl Polym Sci 92: 2884–2902, 2004