Solid state polymerization of poly(lactic acid): Some fundamental parameters
Poly(lactic acid) (PLA) was submitted to solid state polymerization (SSP) in a fixed bed reactor under nitrogen flow, so as to examine technique efficiency for increasing the molecular weight and hence permitting the reduction of the melt polymerization residence times. In order to use a suitable starting material, SSP prepolymers of low and medium molecular weight were first prepared through solid state hydrolysis of commercial PLA grade under acidic and alkaline conditions. During these degradation runs, hydrolysis involved the random scission of ester groups in the polymer backbone, while the relevant kinetics and the resulting thermal properties were also examined. In a subsequent step, the prepolymers obtained were subjected to SSP at three temperatures, approximately 2.5-25.0 °C below their melting point. The process achieved an increase of up to 1.7 times the initial molecular weight, however, with different trends depending on the prepolymer characteristics, rea ction temperature and time, as well as the pH of the hydrolysis medium. In addition to molecular weight build up, the effect of the SSP process on end product thermal properties was also investigated.