Analysis of the Structure-Properties Relationships of Different Multiphase Systems Based on Plasticized Poly(Lactic Acid)
Poly(lactic acid) is one of the most promising biobased and biodegradable polymers for food packaging, an application which requires good mechanical and barrier properties. In order to improve the mechanical properties, in particular the flexibility, PLA plasticization is required. However, plasticization induces generally a decrease in the barrier properties. Acetyl tributyl citrate (ATBC) and poly(ethylene glycol) 300 (PEG), highly recommended as plasticizers for PLA, were added up to 17 wt% in P(D,L)LA. In the case of PEG, a phase separation was observed for plasticizer contents higher than 5 wt%. Contrary to PEG, the Tg decrease due to ATBC addition, modelled with Fox’s law, and the absence of phase separation, up to 17 wt% of plasticizer, confirm the miscibility of PLA and ATBC. Contents equal or higher than 13 wt% of ATBC yielded a substantial improvement of the elongation at break, becoming higher than 300%. The effect of PLA plasticization on the barrier properties was assessed by different molecules, with increasing interaction with the formulated material, such as helium, an inert gas, and oxygen and water vapour. In comparison to the neat sample, barrier properties against helium were maintained when PLA was plasticized with up to 17 wt% of ATBC. The oxygen permeability coefficient and the water vapour transmission rate doubled for mixtures with 17 wt% ATBC in PLA, but increased five-fold in the PEG plasticized samples. This result is most likely caused by increased solubility of oxygen and water in the PEG phase due to their mutual miscibility. To conclude, ATBC increases efficiently the elongation at break of PLA while maintaining the permeability coefficient of helium and keeping the barrier properties against oxygen and water vapour in the same order of magnitude.