Reversible Addition-Fragmentation chain Transfer (RAFT) polymerization has emerged as one of the most versatile reversible deactivation radical polymerization techniques and is capable of polymerizing a wide range of monomers under various conditions. One of the most important factors governing the success of a RAFT polymerization is the fraction of living chains at the end of the reaction, which can be maximized by using a low amount of initiator. From the point of view of the process, it is tempting to perform the polymerization in solution, which allows a better mixing. However, in this work it is shown that this choice may be negative for the quality of the polymer. Detailed analysis using Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of Flight Mass Spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS) of poly(n-butyl acrylate) (pBA) obtained at high conversion in the RAFT solution polymerization revealed that in addition to the polymer chains, formed by the RAFT mechanism, there were two distinct populations resulting from chain transfer to solvent and transfer to polymer followed by β-scission. Complementary results from Size Exclusion Chromatography coupled with Multi Angle Light Scattering detector (SEC/MALS), quantum chemical calculations, and a mathematical model that predicts product distributions, were also used to further confirm the assigned structures. The results highlight the scope and limitation on the living fraction of chains due to chain transfer events using RAFT polymerization and reversible deactivation radical polymerizations in general, and furthermore, yielded information about the fate of midchain radicals formed by intramolecular transfer to polymer.
Veloso, A., García, W., Agirre, A., Ballard, N., Ruipérez, F., De La Cal, J. C., & Asua, J. M. (2015). Determining the effect of side reactions on product distributions in RAFT polymerization by MALDI-TOF MS. Polymer Chemistry, 6(30), 5437–5450. https://doi.org/10.1039/c5py00838g