Temperature-Dependent Reinforcement of Hydrophilic Rubber Using Ice Crystals
This is the first study on the impact of ice crystals on glass transition and mechanical behavior of soft cross-linked elastomers. A hydrophilic elastomer such as epichlorohydrin-ethylene oxide-allyl glycidyl ether can absorb about ∼40 wt % of water. The water-swollen cross-linked network exhibits elastic properties with more than 1500% stretchability at room temperature. Coincidently, the phase transition of water into solid ice crystals inside of the composites allows the reinforcement of the soft elastomer mechanically at lower temperatures. Young's modulus of the composites measured at -20 °C remarkably increased from 1.45 to 3.14 MPa, whereas at +20 °C, the effect was opposite and the Young's modulus decreased from 0.6 to 0.03 MPa after 20 days of water treatment. It was found that a part of the absorbed water, ∼74% of the total absorbed water, is freezable and occupies nearly 26 vol % of the composites. Simultaneously, these solid ice crystals are found to be acting as a reinforcing filler at lower temperatures. The size of these ice crystals is distributed in a relatively narrow range of 400-600 nm. The storage modulus (E′) of the ice crystal-filled composites increased from 3 to 13 MPa at -20 °C. The glass transition temperature (-37 °C) of the soft cross-linked elastomer was not altered by the absorption of water. However, a special transition (melting of ice) occurred at temperatures close to 0 °C as observed in the dynamic mechanical analysis of the water-swollen elastomers. The direct polymer/filler (ice crystals) interaction was demonstrated by strain sweep experiments and investigated using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. This type of cross-linked rubber could be integrated into a smart rubber application such as in adaptable mechanics, where the stiffness of the rubber can be altered as a function of temperature without affecting the mechanical stretchability either below or above 0 °C (above the glass temperature region) of the rubber.