Thiol−ene Coupling of Renewable Monomers : at the forefront of bio-based polymeric materials

Abstract: Plant derived oils bear intrinsic double-bond functionality that can be utilized directly for the thiol–ene reaction. Although terminal unsaturations are far more reactive than internal ones, studies on the reversible addition of thiyl radicals to 1,2-disubstituted alkenes show that this is an important reaction. To investigate the thiol–ene coupling reaction involving these enes, stoichiometric mixtures of a trifunctional propionate thiol with monounsaturated fatty acid methyl esters (methyl oleate or methyl elaidate) supplemented with 2.0 wt.% Irgacure 184 were subjected to 365-nm UV-irradiation and the chemical changes monitored. Continuous (RT– FTIR) and discontinuous (NMR and FT–Raman) techniques were used to follow the progress of the reaction and reveal details of the products formed. Experimental results supported by numerical kinetic simulations of the system confirm the reaction mechanism showing a very fast cis/trans-isomerization of the alkene monomers (<1.0 min) when compared to the total disappearance of double-bonds, indicating that the rate-limiting step controlling the overall reaction is the hydrogen transfer from the thiol involved in the formation of final product. The loss of total unsaturations equals thiol consumption throughout the entire reaction; although product formation is strongly favoured directly from the trans-ene. This indicates that initial cis/trans-isomer structures affect the kinetics. High thiol–ene conversions could be easily obtained at reasonable rates without major influence of side-reactions demonstrating the suitability of this reaction for network forming purposes from 1,2-disubstituted alkenes. To further illustrate the validity of this concept in the formation of cross-linked thiol–ene films a series of globalide/caprolactone based copolyesters differing in degree of unsaturations along the backbone were photopolymerized in the melt with the same trithiol giving amorphous elastomeric materials with different thermal and viscoelastic properties. High thiol–ene conversions (>80%) were easily attained for all cases at reasonable reaction rates, while maintaining the cure behaviour and independent of functionality. Parallel chain-growth ene homopolymerization was considered negligible when compared with the main coupling route. However, the comonomer feed ratio had impact on the thermoset properties with high ene-density copolymers giving networks with higher glass transition temperature values (Tg) and a narrower distribution of cross-links than films with lower ene composition. The thiol–ene systems evaluated in this study serve as model example for the sustainable use of naturally-occurring 1,2-disubstituted alkenes at making semi-synthetic polymeric materials in high conversions with a range of properties in an environment-friendly way.