Enhancement in Crystallizability of Poly(L-lactide) Using Stereocomplex-Polylactide Powder as a Nucleating Agent
High-molecular-weight poly(L-lactide) (HMW-PLLA) is a promising candidate for use as a bioplastic because of its biodegradability and compostability. However, the applications of HMW-PLLA have been limited due to its poor crystallizability. In this work, stereocomplex polylactide (scPLA) powder was prepared by precipitation of a low-molecular-weight poly(L-lactide)/poly(D-lactide) (LMW-PLLA/LMW-PDLA) blend solution and investigated for use as a fully-biodegradable nucleating agent for HMW-PLLA compared to LMW-PLLA powder. The obtained LMW-PLLA and scPLA powders with a nearly spherical shape showed complete homo- and stereocomplex crystallites, respectively. HMW-PLLA/LMW-PLLA powder and HMW-PLLA/scPLA powder blends were prepared by melt blending. The LMW-PLLA powder was homogeneously melted in the HMW-PLLA matrices, whereas the scPLA powder had good phase compatibility and was well-dispersed in the HMW-PLLA matrices, as detected by scanning electron microscopy (SEM). It was shown that the enthalpies of crystallization (DHc) upon cooling scans for HMW-PLLA largely increased and the half crystallization time (t1/2) dramatically decreased as the scPLA powder content increased; however, the LMW-PLLA powder did not exhibit the same behavior, as determined by differential scanning calorimetry (DSC). The crystallinity content of the HMW-PLLA/scPLA powder blends significantly increased as the scPLA powder content increased, as determined by DSC and X-ray diffractometry (XRD). In conclusion, the fully biodegradable scPLA powder showed good potential for use as an effective nucleating agent to improve the crystallization properties of the HMW-PLLA bioplastic.