Ketene Functionalized Polyethylene: Control of Cross-Link Density and Material Properties.
The functionalization and cross-linking of polyethylene is synthetically challenging, commonly relying on highly optimized radical based postpolymerization strategies. To address these difficulties, a norbornene monomer containing Meldrum’s acid is shown to be effectively copolymerized with polyethylene using a nickel -iminocarbaxamidato complex, providing high-melting, semicrystalline polymers with a tunable incorporation of the functional comonomer. Upon heating the copolymer to common polyethylene processing temperatures, the thermolysis of Meldrum’s acid to ketene provides the desired reactive group. This simple and versatile methodology does not require small molecule radical sources or catalysts, and the dimerization of the in situ generated ketenes is shown to provide tunable cross-linking densities in polyethylene. Subsequent rheological and tensile experiments illustrate the ability to tune cross-linked polyethylene properties by comonomer incorporation and elucidate valuable structure/property relationships in these materials. This study illustrates the power of well-defined and synthetically accessible functional groups in polyolefin synthesis and functionalization.