Polymer Engineering Faculty Research

Effect of Polycarboxylate Ether Comb Polymer on Viscosity and Interfacial Properties of Kaolinite Clay Suspensions

Younjin Min, The University of Akron


The interactions between kaolinite clay particles and a comb-type polymer (polycarboxylate ether or PCE), so-called PCE super-plasticizer, were investigated through viscosity and surface forces measurements by a rheometer and a Surface Forces Apparatus (SFA). The addition of PCE shows a strong impact on the viscosity of concentrated kaolinite suspensions in alkaline solutions (pH = 8.3) but a weak effect under acidic conditions (pH = 3.4). In acidic solutions, the high viscosity measured is attributed to the strong electrostatic interaction between negatively charged basal planes and positively charged edge surfaces of clay particles. Under the alkaline condition, the suspension viscosity was found to first increase significantly and then decrease with increasing PCE dosages. The results from surface forces measurement show that PCE molecules at low dosages can bridge the kaolinite particles in the concentrated suspensions via hydrogen bonding, leading to the formation of a kaolinite-PCE “network” and hence an increased suspension viscosity. At high PCE dosages, clay particles are fully covered by PCE molecules, leading to a more dispersed kaolinite suspensions and hence lower suspension viscosity due to steric repulsion between the adsorbed PCE molecules. The insights derived from measuring viscosity and interfacial properties of kaolinite suspensions containing varying amount of comb-type super-plasticizer PCE at different pH provide the foundation for many engineering applications and optimizing industrial processes.