The effect of organically modified clay on the morphology, rheology and mechanical properties of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polyamide 6 (PA6) blends (HDPE/PA6 = 75/25 parts) is studied. Virgin and filled blends were prepared by melt compounding the constituents using a twin-screw extruder. The influence of the organoclay on the morphology of the hybrid was deeply investigated by means of wide-angle X-ray diffractometry, transmission and scanning electron microscopies and quantitative extraction experiments. It has been found that the organoclay exclusively places inside the more hydrophilic polyamide phase during the melt compounding. The extrusion process promotes the formation of highly elongated and separated organoclay-rich PA6 domains. Despite its low volume fraction, the filled minor phase eventually merges once the extruded pellets are melted again, giving rise to a co-continuous microstructure. Remarkably, such a morphology persists for long time in the melt state. A possible compatibilizing action related to the organoclay has been investigated by comparing the morphology of the hybrid blend with that of a blend compatibilized using an ethylene-acrylic acid (EAA) copolymer as a compatibilizer precursor. The former remains phase separated, indicating that the filler does not promote the enhancement of the interfacial adhesion. The macroscopic properties of the hybrid blend were interpreted in the light of its morphology. The melt state dynamics of the materials were probed by means of linear viscoelastic measurements. Many peculiar rheological features of polymer-layered silicate nanocomposites based on single polymer matrix were detected for the hybrid blend. The results have been interpreted proposing the existence of two distinct populations of dynamical species: HDPE not interacting with the filler, and a slower species, constituted by the organoclay-rich polyamide phase, which slackened dynamics stabilize the morphology in the melt state. In the solid state, both the reinforcement effect of the filler and the co-continuous microstructure promote the enhancement of the tensile modulus. Our results demonstrate that adding nanoparticles to polymer blends allows tailoring the final properties of the hybrid, potentially leading to high-performance materials which combine the advantages of polymer blends and the merits of polymer nanocomposites. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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