Modern society's immense and ill-fated reliance on petrochemical-based polymeric materials will likely necessitate a shift in polymer production paradigms in the near future. The work presented herein attempts to address this issue via a two-pronged approach. First, efforts to improve the duration of composite materials by incorporation of a self-healing function are discussed, the fruitful application of which can potentially reduce or eliminate the massive carbon footprints associated with the repair/replacement of damaged materials. And second, polymeric materials derived predominately from natural and renewable feedstock—namely vegetable oils—are developed.
Early microcapsule-based self-healing materials utilized dicyclopentadiene-filled microcapsules and Grubbs' olefin metathesis catalyst to initiate the healing mechanism. However, the patent-protected catalyst, made from the precious metal ruthenium and sometimes costly ligands, will likely never be inexpensive and therefore limit large-scale applications. Hence, clever approaches to reduce the healing catalyst loading in self-healing polymers are of great interest. To this end, our efforts have revolved around solving the problem of the relatively inefficient use of Grubbs' catalyst during the healing mechanism. Given that the mismatch of the olefin metathesis polymerization and Grubbs' catalyst dissolution (in monomer) kinetics is a known cause of this inefficient use of the catalyst, we attempted to tune the "latency" (i.e. pot life) of the olefin metathesis polymerization to ensure more complete dissolution of catalyst in monomer. In an alternative approach to improving efficient catalyst dissolution, we developed a simple model to predict relative dissolution rates of Grubbs' catalyst in a small library of healing monomers. This model was shown experimentally to be able to aid in the selection of, for example, reactive monomer additives that can yield impressive improvements in catalyst dissolution at small loadings. Furthermore, we have recently developed a novel rheokinetic technique designed to mimic the self-healing mechanism. This new analytical technique allows for collection of copious amounts of information related to the self-healing mechanism (e.g. healing kinetics, rheological and mechanical changes of polymerizing healing agents, adhesive interactions between healing agent and polymer matrix, etc.) to be extracted from a single experiment.
New polymers derived from renewable feeds were synthesized via olefin metathesis polymerization techniques, which are ideally suited to react with the unactivated olefins (i.e. non-styrenic, non-acrylated, non-conjugated, etc.) prominent in most vegetable oils. Various vegetable oils were modified to contain norbornenyl functional groups via the high-pressure Diels-Alder addition of cyclopentadiene to their olefins to yield ROMP-reactive monomers. These monomers, polymerized in the presence of Grubbs' catalyst and the occasional comonomer, were able to yield highly crosslinked thermosets with ambient temperature storage moduli, glass transition temperatures and decomposition temperatures comparable to their currently-used, petrochemical-based counterparts. Other research thrusts in this area have focused on the development of renewable thermoplastic polymers. Vegetable oils were chemically modified to yield a series of α,ω-dienes, from which polymers were formed via acyclic diene metathesis (ADMET). The resulting polymers were shown to have unique material properties, comparable to that of other biopolyesters (poly(lactic acid), poly(glycolides), poly(caprolactones), etc.) and common, petrochemical-derived polyesters.