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Online polymer molecular weight and conversion monitoring via calorimetric measurements in RAFT emulsion polymerization

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BACKGROUND: Online measurements of key emulsion polymerization attributes, such as conversion and molar mass distribution, are unavailable. Costly offline measurements at low sampling frequencies with time delays usually lead to insurmountable challenges in real‐time product quality monitoring and process/product control.

RESULTS: We developed an online calorimetric method monitoring the evolution of conversion and molecular weight in complex polymerization reactors. Our experiments were carried out in a 1 L reactor to produce polystyrene homopolymer. Monomer conversion was obtained in real time from polymerization rate, which was estimated from temperature measurements using platinum thermal transducers. The calorimetric model was validated offline for batch and semi‐batch emulsion polymerization of styrene with and without transfer agents. The conversion was validated using offline gravimetry. The molecular weights measured offline via size exclusion chromatography with multiple detectors compared well with those estimated online using the calorimetric method.

CONCLUSION: We found that a semi‐batch emulsion polymerization process can be controlled online to approach living polymerization involving transfer agents. Thus our model is suitable as a ‘soft‐sensor’ for real‐time control applications. Copyright © 2009 Society of Chemical Industry
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Keywords: RAFT; calorimetry; conversion; emulsion polymerization; molecular weight

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2009

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