|Abstract: ||This thesis aims to improve the performance of latex-based pressure-sensitive adhesives (PSAs). PSA performance is usually evaluated by tack, peel strength and shear strength. Tack and peel strength characterize a PSA’s bonding strength to a substrate while shear strength reflects a PSA’s capability to resist shear deformation. In general, increasing shear strength leads to a decrease in tack and peel strength. While there are several commercial PSA synthesis methods, the two most important methods consist of either solvent-based or latex-based techniques. While latex-based PSAs are more environmentally compliant than solvent-based PSAs, they tend to have much lower shear strength, at similar tack and peel strength levels. Therefore, the goal in this thesis was to greatly improve the shear strength of latex-based PSAs at little to no sacrifice to tack and peel strength.
In this study, controlling the polymer microstructure of latexes or their corresponding PSA films was used as the main method for improving the PSA performance. The research was sub-divided into four parts. First, the influence of chain transfer agent (CTA) and cross-linker on latex polymer microstructure was studied via seeded semi-batch emulsion polymerization of butyl acrylate (BA) and methyl methacrylate (MMA). Three techniques were used to produce the latexes: (1) adding CTA only, (2) adding cross-linker only, and (3) adding both CTA and cross-linker. It was found that using CTA and cross-linker simultaneously allows one to expand the range of latex microstructural possibilities. For example, latexes with similar gel contents but different Mc (molecular weight between cross-links) and Mw (molecular weight of sol polymers) could be produced if CTA and cross-linker concentration are both increased. However, for the corresponding PSAs with similar gel contents, the relationship between their polymer microstructure and performance was difficult to establish as almost all of the medium and high gel content PSAs showed very low tack and peel strength as well as extremely large shear strength readings.
In the second part of this thesis, in order to improve the tack and peel strength of medium and high gel content PSAs, the monomer composition and emulsifier concentration were varied. It was found that changing the monomer mixture from BA/MMA to BA/acrylic acid (AA)/2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate (HEMA) while simultaneously decreasing emulsifier concentration dramatically improved the corresponding PSAs’ shear strength as well as tack and peel strength. The addition of polar groups to the PSA increased its cohesive strength due to the presence of strong hydrogen bonding; meanwhile, PSA films’ surface tension increased.
In the third part, two series of BA/AA/HEMA latexes were generated by varying the amounts of CTA either in the absence or presence of cross-linker. The latexes produced in the absence of cross-linker exhibited significantly larger Mc and Mw compared to their counterparts with similar gel contents prepared with cross-linker. The PSAs with the larger Mc and Mw showed much larger shear strengths due to improved entanglements between the polymer chains.
In the final part of the thesis, the performance of the BA/AA/HEMA PSAs was further improved by post-heating. Compared with original latex-based PSAs with similar gel contents, heat-treated PSAs showed not only significantly improved shear strengths, but also much larger tack and peel strengths. The different shear strengths were related to the PSAs’ gel structures, which were discrete in the original PSAs but continuous in the heat-treated PSAs. The improved tack and peel strengths were related to the PSA films’ surface smoothness. During the post-heating process, the PSA polymer flowed, resulting in much smoother surfaces than the original PSA films. In addition, the effect of post-heating was related to the polymer microstructure of the untreated PSAs. Decreasing the amount of very small or very big polymers or simultaneously increasing Mc and Mw could lead to post-treated PSAs with significantly better performance. Moreover, it was found that by optimizing the polymer microstructure of the original latex-based PSAs, it was possible to obtain a treated PSA with similar or even better performance than a solvent-based PSA with similar polymer microstructure.
Our original objective was surpassed: in two cases, not only was shear strength greatly improved, but so were tack and peel strength due to the simultaneous modification of PSA bulk and surface properties.|