INVESTIGATION OF IN-SITU POLY(LACTIC ACID)/SOY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE COMPOSITES: COMPOSITE PREPARATION, PROPERTIES AND FOAM APPLICATION DEVELOPMENT
In this study, soy protein (SP), the residue of oil crushing, was used for preparation of value-added thermoplastics. Novel poly(lactic acid) (PLA)/soy protein concentrate (SPC) blends were investigated and foaming of the resulting blends was developed. PLA/SPC blends were prepared by twin-screw extrusion and test specimens by injection molding. Unlike the practice elsewhere SP was used as a filler in mixing with other polymers, SPC was processed as a plastic component in blending process in this work. Processing SPC as plastic component, water played an important role in terms of the deformability and the morphology of SP thus the properties of the blends. Plasticization of SP, compatibilization of the blends and structure-property relationship of the PLA/SPC blends were studied. In the literature water and glycerol were often used together in preparing SP plastics or plastic blends, but this study found that this traditional combination did not provide the best results in terms of morphology and mechanical properties. Water is only recommended in plasticizing SP in the blends. This study showed water as a plasticizer was a domain factor on control of morphology and properties of PLA/SPC blends. The due to the evaporation of water after extrusion, SP domain lost its deformability thus resulted in in-situ composites. Interconnected SPC phase structure was achieved by control water content in the pre-formulated SPC and SPC content in the blends. A novel dual compatibilization method was developed to improve the properties of PLA/SPC blends. Poly(2-ethyl-2-oxazoline) was used to improve the dispersion of SPC in the blending stage, and polymeric methylene diphenyl diisocyanate was used to improve the interfacial adhesion between SPC and PLA in the subsequent processing. The result showed excellent mechanical properties and improved thermal properties of PLA/SPC blends. Using processing aids is an effective way to decrease processing temperature and thermal degradation of PLA/SPC blends. Interfacial adhesion and chemical blowing agent (CBA) played important roles in extrusion foaming PLA/SPC blends. The interconnected SPC particles provided a convenient passage for gas escape due to the weak adhesion between PLA melt and SPC, especially when CBA content was high. Strong interfacial adhesion is necessary to prevent gas escape and get low density foam at low CBA content. The new findings in this work contribute to the knowledgebase of polymer blends and composites. The findings in this work and implementation of the investigation of preparation and properties of PLA/SP blends set up a framework for future research and development of similar natural polymer blends such as starch and sugar beet pulp.