Exploring Biopolymer-Clay Nanocomposite Materials by Molecular Modelling
Abstract: In this thesis, bio-nanocomposites made from two alternative biopolymers and montmorillonite (Mnt) clay have been investigated by molecular modelling. These biopolymers are xyloglucan (XG) and chitosan (CHS), both of which are abundant, renewable, and cost-effective. After being reinforced by Mnt clay nanoparticles, the polymer nanocomposites gains in multifunctionality and in the possibility to register unique combinations of properties, like mechanical, biodegradable, electrical, thermal and gas barrier properties. I apply molecular dynamics (MD) simulations to study the interfacial mechanisms of the adhesion of these biopolymers to the Mnt nanoplatelets at an atomic level.For the XG-Mnt system, a strong binding affinity of XG to a fully hydrated Mnt interface was demonstrated. It was concluded that the dominant driving force for the interfacing is the enthalpy, i.e. the potential energy of the XG-Mnt interacting system. The adsorbed XG favors a flat conformation with a galactose residue in its side chain that facilitates the adsorption of the polymer to the nanoclay. The XG adsorption was found do depend strongly on the hydration ability of counterions. The binding affinity of XG to Mnt was found to be strongest in the K-Mnt/XG system, followed by, in decreasing order, Na-Mnt/XG, Li-Mnt/XG, and Ca-Mnt/XG. The competing mechanism between ions, water and the XG in the interlayer region was shown to play an important role.The dimensional stability upon moisture exposure, i.e. the ability of a material to resist swelling, is an important parameter for biopolymer-clay nanocomposites. While pure clay swells significantly even at low hydration levels, it is here shown that for the XG-Mnt system, at a hydration level below 50%, the inter-lamellar spacing is well preserved, suggesting a stable material performance. However, at higher hydration levels, the XG-Mnt composite was found to exhibit swelling at the same rate as the pure hydrated Mnt clay.For the CHS-Mnt system, the significant electrostatic interactions from the direct charge-charge attraction between the polymer and the Mnt clay play a key role in the composite formation. Varying the degree of acetylation (DA) and the degree of protonation (DPr) resulted in different effects on the polymer-clay interaction. For the heavily acetylated CHS (DA > 50%, also known as chitin), the strong adhesion of the neutral chitin to the Mnt clay was attributed to strong correlation between the acetyl functional groups and the counterions which act as an electrostatic “glue”. Similarly, the poor adhesion of the fully deprotonated (DPr = 0%) neutral CHS to the clay is attributed to a weak correlation between the amino functional group and the counterions.The stress-strain behavior of the CHS-Mnt composite shows that the mechanical properties are highly affected by the volume fraction of the Mnt clay and the degree of exfoliation of the composite. The material structure has a close relationship to the material properties.Biopolymer-clay nanocomposites hold a bright future to replace petroleum-derived polymer plastics and will become widely used in common life. The theme of the thesis is that further critical improvements of these materials can be accomplished by development of the experimental methods in conjunction with increased understanding of the interactions between polymer, clay, water, ions, solutions in the polymer-clay mixtures provided by molecular modelling.
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