Oligomer-polymer gel spinning of high performance fibers

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Fang, Xudong
Yao, Donggang
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High performance polymer fibers are playing more important roles than before with increasing needs from more fields. However, the production and commercialization of such fibers are still limited due to high cost especially for those which are produced by gel spinning. The current gel spinning process relies on huge amounts of solvents for dissolution and extraction, leading to a slow, costly and environmentally unfriendly process. One major objective of this work is to optimize the gel spinning process to reduce cost and improve efficiency. The optimization methods include searching for new solvents based on an ‘oligomer-polymer’ spinning system and developing new extraction processes. UHMWPE fibers are used as a case for study. Results showed that a new oligomer solvent – polybutene – can be successfully used for more effective production of high-strength UHMWPE fibers with a mechanical solvent removal process. Phase diagram analysis was conducted to understand the process kinetics of the new spin system and generalize the findings. With realization of the first objective, a second objective is to extend the oligomer-polymer gel spinning process to the production of other high-performance polymer fibers. As of now, only very few polymers have been successfully produced by gel spinning, including polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE), poly (vinyl alcohol) (PVA) and polyacrylonitrile (PAN). In this work, the new oligomer-polymer process is used for producing high strength polyoxymethylene (POM) fibers for their potentially excellent engineering properties. With the ‘oligomer-polymer’ spinning system, a new ‘solvent’ has been found for POM and results showed that high strength POM fiber can be successfully gel spun. The relationship of processing with structure and property was studied to optimize the fiber performance.
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