Macromolecules, 2019, vol 52, 15, pp. 6005-6017
Thermoplastic composites based on thermotropic liquid crystalline polymer (LCP) materials are interesting candidates for reinforced composite application due to their promising mechanical performance and potential for recyclability. In combination with a societal push toward the more sustainable use of materials, these properties warrant new interest in this class of composites. Though numerous studies have been performed in the past, a coherent set of design rules for LCP design for the generation of injection-molded reinforced thermoplastic composites is not yet available, likely due to the complex interplay between LCP and matrix components. In this study, we report on the processing of poly(l-lactide) with two different LCPs, at relatively low processing temperatures. The study focuses on critical parameters for the morphological development and mechanical performance of LCP-reinforced composites. The influence of blend composition and the processing conditions, on the mechanical response of the composites, is investigated using rheology, wide-angle X-ray diffraction, mechanical analysis, and microscopy techniques. The study conclusively demonstrates that both the matrix viscosity and viscosity ratio between the dispersed and matrix phase, determine the deformation and breakup of the dispersed LCP droplets during extrusion. In addition, the thermal dependence of the viscosity ratio appears to be a critical parameter for the composite performance after injection molding. For example, during injection molding, stretching and molecular orientation of the LCP phase into highly oriented fibrils are prevented when the viscosity ratio increases rapidly upon cooling. In contrast, melt drawing proves to be a more effective processing route as the extensional flow field stabilizes elongated droplets, independent of the viscosity ratio. Overall, these findings provide valuable insights in the morphological development of LCP-reinforced blends, highlighting the importance of the development of viscoelastic properties as a function of temperature, and provide guidelines for the design of new LCP polymers and their thermoplastic composites.