The synthesis of biodegradable polymers using aluminium alkoxide initiators
Alkyl aluminium alkoxides have been used as initiators for the ring opening polymerisation of ε-caprolactone and δ-valerolactone. The effect of the reaction solvent on the kinetics of the polymerisation of ε-caprolactone has been studied. The rate of polymerisation was found to be faster in solvents of lower polarity and donor nature such as toluene. In general solvents of higher polarity resulted in a decreased rate of polymerisation. However solvents such as THF or DMF with a lone pair of electrons capable of forming a complex with the aluminium centre slowed the polymerisation further. The size of the monomer also proved to be an important factor in the kinetics of the reaction. The six membered ring, δ-valerolactone has less ring strain than the seven membered ring ε-caprolactone and thus the polymerisation of δ-valerolactone is slower than the corresponding polymerisation of ε-caprolactone. Both the alkoxide and alkyl group structures have an effect on the polymerisation. In general bulkier alkoxide groups provide greater steric hindrance around the active site at the beginning of the reaction. This causes an induction or a build up period that is related to the both the steric hindrance and also the electronic effects provided by the alkoxide group. The alkyl group structure has an effect throughout the polymerisation because it remains adjacent to the active centre. The number of alkoxide groups on the aluminium centre is also important, using a dialkoxide as an initiator yields polymers with molecular weights approximately half that of the corresponding reactions using a mono alkoxide. Transesterification reactions have also been found to occur after most of the monomer has been consumed. These transesterification reactions are exaggerated as temperature increases. A method of producing tri-block co-polymers has also been developed. A di-hydroxy functional pre-polymer, PHBV, was reacted with an aluminium alkyl to form a di-alkoxide macroinitiator which was subsequently used as an initiator for the polymerisation of ε-caprolactone to form an ABA type tri-block co-polymer. The molecular weight and other properties were predictable from the initial monomer/initiator ratios.