Polymer synthesis in action

Polymer Synthesis — Practical Considerations

Polymer Synthesis, also known as polymerization, is the chemistry of engineering large molecules, also referred to as macromolecules. Researchers, engineers and scientists at National Polymer employ polymer synthesis techniques in creating custom novel polymer products for a variety of applications. When a polymer is required that cannot be bought “off the shelf”, National Polymer will create what is desired, test it, and ensure that it is properly scaled-up for production. We can also assist with incorporating the custom polymer into a component product or end product.

Polymer Synthesis Methods

Polymer synthesis encompasses a variety of polymerization methods. Classes of reactions used to synthesize polymers include:

Let’s look at each of these polymerization methods.  For each polymerization method, different types of reactions can be carried out.

  • Emulsion polymerization
    • Chain growth polymerization is commonly used.
    • Most common way to initiate reactions is free-radical polymerization.
    • Two common ways to generate free-radicals
      • Redox
      • Thermal
  • Solution polymerization
    • Chain growth polymerization is commonly used
    • Three ways to initiate reactions
      • Free radical polymerization
      • Anionic polymerization
      • Cationic polymerization
  • Melt Condensation Polymerization
    • Step growth polymerization is commonly used.
      • Step growth polymerization can also be known as condensation polymerization because a small molecule is given off such as water or methanol.
    • Ring opening Polymerization can also be used.
      • This is because a ring-structure is used as one of the reactants.

Key factors that must be considered when planning a Polymer Synthesis reaction is the choice of reactants, choice initiators and thermal transfer:

  • Choice of reactants
    • This choice is critical, as it will determine the properties of the polymer.
      • Linear reactants will form a higher level of crystallinity.
        • This will increase modulus.
      • Branched reactants will favor a more amorphous polymer.
        • This will create greater clarity, flexibility, and elasticity (if crosslinked).
  • Choice of initiators
    • Redox initiators are normally reserved for water-based emulsion polymerizations
    • Peroxides are used in non-aqueous solution polymerizations
    • Catalysts are often needed to drive condensation polymerization forward.
  • In every case, thermal transfer is critical (removal of the heat of reaction)
    • For water-based emulsion polymerizations, the rate at which the redox initiators are added control the exotherms.
    • For solution polymerizations, cooling is often needed to slow the chain reaction.
    • For condensation polymerizations, heat must be added to drive the reaction forward, as well as vacuum assist to remove the by-product of the reaction.

These key factors change with the scale of the reaction and must be closely monitored and adjusted as the reactions size increases. This is critical, not only to the structure of the final polymer, but it is also critical for safety.

Polymer Synthesis Considerations

As you can see, considerable training and experience are necessary to carry out a successful polymer synthesis. The first step, laboratory development, is carried out on a small scale in a fully equipped polymer laboratory. When this is finished, the small-scale prototype polymer can be tested, and confidence is gained that the correct materials have been selected.

The second step, scale-up, is equally important and requires considerable time and attention. Batches must be made in a stepwise fashion, increasing size gradually to full scale production. During this time, the procedure is developed. When finished, the Polymer can be produced on an ongoing basis using the select formulation and procedure.

The third and final step is production where formulation and procedures are finalized, quality control tests are put into place, and packaging and shipping decisions are made.

Assistance With Your Polymer Synthesis Project

National Polymer has successfully executed scores of polymer synthesis projects for our clients. Whether you need us to perform just the polymerization itself, or you also could use scale up and production assistance, our team of highly skilled and experience engineers and scientists is available to discuss your project with you and see how can help. To find out more about National Polymer’s approach to Polymer Synthesis, or for a no cost, no obligation consultation regarding your immediate needs, contact us at (800) 679-0477 or email us at info@nationalpolymer.com.