Thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs) are a special class of polymers which combine the benefits of elastomers and thermoplastics. Due to their excellent processability and mechanical and thermal properties, they are becoming increasingly popular in the automotive industry to replace traditional rubber and plastic materials in applications where high performance is essential. The global TPE market is expected to grow to $23.9 billion dollars, nearly a 60% increase from the market worth in 2012.
Recent TPE research focuses on improving its processability, mechanical and thermal performance, colorability, odor, scratch resistance, and lightweighting. The addition of reinforcing fillers is an excellent way of improving material performance. With the right selection of fillers, the composite can also be made to be a more lightweight material with enhanced properties. In this study, ultra-fine cellulose (UFC) and graphene nanoplatelets (GNP) have both been successfully dispersed into a commercial block copolymer TPE from Dupont via conventional melt processing. Cellulose is an inherently renewable and sustainable material with good reinforcing properties, while graphene has excellent mechanical and thermal properties. The effects of loading level on the mechanical (tensile, flexural, and impact) and thermal (crystallization behavior and thermal stability) properties were investigated.
The distribution and dispersion of the particles within the polymer matrix were also studied using scanning electron microscopies. The results indicate that both UFC and GNP have potential for improving the base TPE properties, especially in regards to Young’s modulus, flexural strength and modulus, and impact strength without compromising thermal performance.