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Keywords:

  • biopolymers;
  • blends;
  • crystallization;
  • polyhydroxyalkanoates;
  • poly(lactic acid)

Abstract

Thumbnail image of graphical abstract

Effect of the particle size on the overall crystallization rate by low spontaneous nucleation frequency.

Summary: Properties of polymer alloys comprising poly(lactic acid) and Nodax copolymers are investigated. Nodax is a family of bacterially produced polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) copolymers comprising 3-hydroxybutyrate (3HB) and other 3-hydroxyalkanoate (3HA) units with side groups greater than or equal to three carbon units. The incorporation of 3HA units with medium-chain-length (mcl) side groups effectively lowers the crystallinity and the melt temperature, Tm, of this class of PHA copolymers, in a manner similar to that of alpha olefins controlling the properties of linear low density polyethylene. The lower Tm makes the material easier to process, as the thermal decomposition temperature of PHAs is then relatively low. The reduced crystallinity provides the ductility and toughness required for many plastics applications. When a small amount of ductile PHA is blended with poly(lactic acid) (PLA), a new type of polymer alloy with much improved properties is created. The toughness of PLA is substantially increased without a reduction in the optical clarity of the blend. The synergy between the two materials, both produced from renewable resources, is attributed to the retardation of crystallization of PHA copolymers finely dispersed in a PLA matrix as discrete domains.