Perfectly Alternating Copolymer of Lactic Acid and Ethylene Oxide as a Plasticizing Agent for Polylactide
Kevin BechtoldMarc A. HillmyerWilliam B. Tolman

The ring-opening polymerization of 3-methyl-1,4-dioxan-2-one (MDO) mediated by a catalytic system composed of Y[N(TMS)2]3 and benzyl alcohol (BnOH) led to a new polymer (PMDO) comprised of perfectly alternating lactic acid and ethylene oxide repeat units. Samples of PMDO were characterized by NMR spectroscopy, size exclusion chromatography (SEC), and matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization mass spectrometry (MALDI-MS). In a series of MDO polymerizations ([MDO]0 = 3.0 M in toluene, between −30 and 60 °C), the equilibrium monomer concentrations were measured. The thermodynamic parameters for the polymerization reaction were determined:  ΔHp° = −12.1 ± 0.5 kJ mol-1 and ΔSp° = −42 ± 2 J mol-1 K-1. The glass transition temperature (Tg) of PMDO was determined to be ≈−24 °C by differential scanning calorimetry and found to vary little over the molecular weight range studied (3−21 kg/mol). Mixtures of low-molecular-weight PMDO and atactic polylactide (PLA) were prepared by solution casting and subsequent annealing significantly above the Tg's of the individual components. Miscibility of PLA and PMDO was evinced by single Tg's that were well-described by the Fox relationship for miscible blends. Because of its miscibility with PLA and low Tg, PMDO has potential as a macromolecular plasticizing agent for commercially relevant PLA.

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