Synthesis and characterisation of vinyl block copolymers
A study has been made of the anionic polymerisation of methyl methacrylate using butyllithium and polystyryl lithium as initiators and the effects of lithium chloride and aluminium alkyls on the molecular weight and molecular weight distributions. Diblock copolymers of styrene-b-methyl methacrylate were synthesised at -78oC in THF in the presence of lithium chloride, and at ambient temperatures in toluene in the presence of aluminium alkyls. Studies in the presence of lithium chloride showed that the polymerisation was difficult to control; there was no conclusive evidence of a living system and the polydispersity indices were between 1.5 and 3. However, using relatively apolar solvents, in the presence of aluminium alkyls, homopolymerisation of methyl methacrylate showed characteristics of a living polymerisation. An investigation of the effects of the structures of the lithium and aluminium alkyls on the efficiency of initiation showed that a t-butyllithium/triisobutylaluminium initiating system exhibited an efficiency of 80%, compared with lower efficiencies (typically 30%) for systems based on butyllithium/triethylaluminium. The polydispersity index was found to decrease from ˜2.2 to ˜1.5 when butyllithium was replaced by t-butyllithium. The efficiency of the initiator was found to be solely dependent on the size of the alkyl group of the aluminium component, whereas the polydispersity index was found to be solely dependent on the size of the alkyl group on the lithium component. The aluminium alkyl is thought to be co-ordinated to the ester carbonyl groups of both the monomer and polymer. There is a critical degree of polymerisation, at which point the rate of polymerisation decreases, which probably relates to a change in structure of the active chain end.