Emulsion polymerizationEmulsion polymerization
is a type of polymerization
that takes place in an emulsion
typically incorporating water, monomer
, and surfactant
. The most common type of emulsion polymerization is an oil-in-water emulsion, in which droplets of monomer (the oil) are emulsified (with surfactants) in a continuous phase of water. If the polymerization is carried out in the absence of surfactants, it is generally known as a suspension
Advantages of emulsion polymerization include:
- The continuous water phase is an excellent conductor of heat and allows the heat to be removed from the system, allowing many reaction methods to increase their rate.
- Since polymer molecules are contained within the particles, viscosity remains close to that of water and is not dependent on molecular weight.
- The final product can be used as is and does not generally need to be altered or processed.
Most emulsion polymerizations use a free-radical
polymerization method. Emulsion poymerization can be carried out as a batch reaction, but in many cases is performed as a starve-fed
reaction to insure a good distribution of monomers into the polymer backbone chain
The leading theory for the mechanism of starve-fed, free-radical emulsion polymerization is summarized by the following:
- Surfactants emulsify the monomer in a water continuous phase.
- Excess surfactant creates micelles in the water.
- Small amounts of monomer diffuse through the water to the micelle.
- Initiator (water-soluble and introduced into the water phase) reacts with monomer in the micelles
- The micelles in total, comprise a much larger surface area in the system than the fewer, larger monomer droplets, which is why the initiator typically reacts with the micelle and not the monomer droplet.
- Monomer in the micelle quickly polymerizes and the growing chain terminates.
- More monomer from the droplets diffuses to the growing micelle/particle, where more initiators will eventually react.
- Monomer droplets and initiator are continuously, and slowly added to maintain their levels in the system as the particles grow.
- When the monomer droplets have been completely consumed, the initiator is typically added in for a little while longer to consume any residual monomer.
- The final product is an emulsion of polymer particles in water.