Infoscience

Thesis

High-temperature radical polymerization of methyl methacrylate in a continuous pilot scale process

The present PhD thesis deals with the high temperature polymerization of methyl methacrylate in a continuous pilot scale process. The major aim is to investigate the feasibility of a polymerization process for the production of PMMA molding compound at temperatures in the range from 140 °C to 170 °C. Increasing the process temperature has the advantage of decreasing molecular weight and viscosity of the reaction mixture, thus allowing to reduce the addition of chain transfer agent and to increase the polymer content in the reactor. At the same time, the reaction rates are higher and the devolatilization is facilitated compared to low conversion polymerizations. Altogether, it leads to an improved space time yield of the process. However, increasing the process temperature also has an important impact on both, polymerization kinetics and polymer properties. The first two parts of this work are, therefore, dedicated to the self-initiation respectively the high temperature gel effect observed for the polymerization of MMA at the given temperature range. The self-initiation of MMA is mostly caused by polymeric peroxides that form from physically dissolved oxygen and the monomer, itself. The formation, decomposition and constitution of these peroxides are intensively studied and a formal kinetic is proposed for the formation and decomposition reaction. The polymerization of MMA is subject to a rather strong auto-acceleration, called gel effect, the intensity of which depends on process conditions and solvent content. There are several models proposed in the specialized literature to describe this phenomenon by modifying the termination rate constant as a function of conversion and temperature. The second part of this study contains the evaluation of these models with regards to their applicability to high temperature MMA polymerization as well as the development of a new variant of an existing model, which correctly describes the gel effect in the temperature range of interest as a function of polymer content, temperature and molecular weight. The advantage of this new variant is that it includes all other factors influencing the gel effect, i.e. chain transfer agent, initiator load, comonomer and solvent content, and that it is suitable for the description of batch and continuous processes. A complete kinetic model for the description of the high temperature copolymerization of MMA and MA, containing the results from the first two parts of this work, is established within the software package PREDICI® and validated by means of several series of batch polymerizations. In the third part of this work, a complete pilot plant installation for the continuous polymerization of MMA is designed and constructed in order to study the impact of increasing the reaction temperature on process properties and product quality under conditions similar to those of an industrial-scale polymerization. The pilot plant is based on a combination of recycle loop and consecutive tube reactor, equipped with SULZER SMXL® / SMX® static mixing technology. Furthermore, it is equipped with a static one-step flash devolatilization and a pelletizer for polymer granulation. At the same time, a refined method for inline conversion monitoring by speed of sound measurement is developed and tested in the pilot plant. By means of this technique it is possible to follow the dynamic behavior of the reactor and to measure directly the monomer conversion without taking a sample. The results of several pilot plant polymerizations carried out under different conditions are presented and the impact of temperature, comonomer and chain transfer agent on the thermal stability of the product is analyzed. From these results, the r-parameters for the copolymerization of MMA and MA at 160 °C as well as the chain transfer constant for n-dodecanethiol at 140 °C are determined. Finally, the pilot plant experiments are used to validate the kinetic model established beforehand in PREDICI® for the continuous copolymerization.

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