Soft and Rigid Core Latex Nanoparticles Prepared by RAFT-mediated Surfactant-Free Emulsion Polymerization for Cellulose Modification

Latex nanoparticles comprising cationically charged coronas and hydrophobic cores with different glass transition temperatures (Tg) have been prepared by surfactant-free, RAFT-mediated emulsion polymerization, where the particles form through a polymerization-induced self-assembly (PISA) type mechanism. Poly(2-dimethylaminoethyl methacrylate-co-methacrylic acid) (P(DMAEMA-co-MAA)) was utilized as a hydrophilic macroRAFT agent for the polymerization of methyl methacrylate (MMA) or n-butyl methacrylate (nBMA), respectively, resulting in two different latexes, with either a core of high (PMMA) or low (PnBMA) Tg polymer. By varying the molar mass of the hydrophobic block, latexes of different sizes were obtained (DHca. 40–120 nm). The adsorption of the latexes to cellulose model surfaces and cellulose nanofibrils (CNF) was studied using quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation monitoring (QCM-D). The surfaces with adsorbed PnBMA latexes yielded hydrophobic surfaces both before and after annealing, whereas surfaces with adsorbed PMMA latex became hydrophobic only after annealing, clearly showing the influence of the Tg of the core. The latexes were also used to modify macroscopic cellulose in the form of filter papers. Similar to the CNF surfaces, no annealing was required to achieve hydrophobic surfaces with PnBMA latexes. Finally, nanocomposites of CNF and the polymer nanoparticles were prepared through a one-pot mixing procedure. It was found that the largest synthesized PMMA latex (120 nm) facilitated a more strainable CNF network at 50% relative humidity, with a nearly 200% increase in strain at break compared to the neat CNF reference film as well as to the composite films with PnBMA latexes or to the smaller sized PMMA latexes. This difference was attributed to the spherical shape and rigidity of the large PMMA latex nanoparticles during composite formation. This highly interesting result should indeed be considered in the future design of novel biocomposites.

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