Journal of Rheology, Vol.64, No.1, 1-12, 2020
Rheological quantification of the extent of dissolution of ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene in melt-compounded blends with high density polyethylene
Melt compounding of ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) with high density polyethylene (HDPE) promises to be an alternative route to prepare bimodal polyethylene grades. However, complete dissolution of UHMWPE in HDPE cannot be guaranteed during melt compounding. Indeed, in an earlier work [K. Chaudhuri et al., Polym. Eng. Sci. 59, 821-829 (2019)], it was shown that a fully entangled UHMWPE did not mix well with commercial HDPE. However, a disentangled UHMWPE (dPE) could be melt-mixed in the same HDPE as evidenced qualitatively by rheological measurements. The present work is focused on quantifying the extent of dissolution of dPE in HDPE. The proposed method involves fitting rheological models for linear viscoelasticity of entangled bimodal blends of polydisperse polymers to dynamic oscillatory shear data and extracting information on the extent of dissolved species. The time-dependent diffusion model of des Cloizeaux is used along with the theory of double reptation (DR) to describe the dynamics of polydisperse homopolymers and also to extract the molecular weight distribution of the UHMWPE sample. A quadratic mixing rule, consistent with the DR model, is used to describe the dynamics of bimodal blends. Melt-mixed dPE/HDPE blends were prepared and characterized for their linear viscoelastic response by frequency sweep tests. The blends showed complex behavior with multiple crossover points, especially for the higher content of dPE. The bimodal model was then fit to the experimental frequency sweep data to determine the only unknown parameter, namely, the extent of dissolved dPE. It was found that a considerable fraction of dPE is dissolved in HDPE during melt compounding.