Polyelectrolyte complexes : their preparation, adsorption behaviour and effect on paper properties

Abstract: In this work, the formation of polyelectrolyte complexes (PECs) has been studied using a jet mixing method not previously used for mixing polyelectrolytes. The PECs were formed from two weak polyelectrolytes, i.e., polyacrylic acid (PAA) and polyallylamine hydrochloride (PAH), with different mixing times, and the results were compared with those for PECs formed using the conventional polyelectrolyte titration method.   The adsorption behaviour of the formed PECs on silicon oxide substrates and pulp fibres was analysed, and the results were compared with those for polyelectrolyte multilayers (PEMs) prepared from the same two polyelectrolytes.   The results indicated that by using the jet mixer, the size of the formed PECs could be controlled, which was not the case with the polyelectrolyte titration method. The PECs produced by jet mixing were also found to be smaller than those produced by polyelectrolyte titration. From these results, a two-step mechanism for the formation of PECs was suggested: initial precomplex formation, which is a fast and diffusion-controlled process, followed by a reconformation process, during which the vigorous mixing in the jet mixer can partially limit secondary aggregation.   When the complexes were adsorbed to silicon oxide or pulp fibre surfaces, adsorption studies indicated that it was impossible to reach the same adsorption levels for PECs as for PEMs. This was explained in terms of free energy, entropical, reasons rather than to any geometric limitation of the surface. Despite the smaller amount of polyelectrolyte adsorbed from the PEC treatment than from the PEM treatment of pulp fibres, the PEC treatment had the greatest effect on paper strength per adsorbed amount of polymer. This was thought to be because the three-dimensional structure of the PECs, versus the smoother structure of PEMs, allows for the formation of multiple contact points between the macroscopically rough fibres and increased molecular contact area.   In the adsorption experiments, it was also found that net cationic complexes can adsorb to both anionic and cationic substrates. This phenomenon was explained by the occurrence of anionic patches on the surface of the net cationic PECs and the ability of the PECs, formed from weak polyelectrolytes, to partially change charge upon exposure to a surface of the same charge as the complex itself, due to a change of the degree of dissociation of the polyelectrolytes constituting the complex.