Polymer Engineering Faculty Research

Comparisons of styrene ionomers prepared by sulfonating polystyrene and copolymerizing styrene with styrene sulfonate

Robert Weiss, The University of Akron


As part of a continuing study of ion-containing polymers, a comparison has been made on styrene-based sulfonate ionomers obtained by two different processes. Copolymers of styrene with sodium styrene sulfonate (SSS) have been compared with corresponding polymers obtained by the sulfonation/neutralization of preformed polystyrene (S–PS). The former system covered a range of sulfonate level from 1 to 30 mol %, while the latter ranged from about 1 to 7 mol %. The characterization of these materials has been conducted using solubility behavior, dilute solution viscometry, thermal mechanical analysis, density measurements, and water adsorption studies. At low (ca. 1%) levels the solubility behavior of the SSS copolymers and the sulfonated polystyrenes were similar. However, at higher sulfonate levels the solubility behavior in different solvents and the dilute solution viscometry were significantly different for the two systems. Similarly, thermal analysis studies (DSC) showed that the glass transition of the sulfonated polystyrene increased linearly with sulfonate level, while the Tg for the SSS copolymer increased modestly, up to about 7 mol % sulfonate content, and then remained constant. Significant differences in the softening behavior and water absorption characteristics were also observed for these two classes of ionomers. Although molecular weights and molecular weight distributions are not now available for these ionomers, the differences in their behavior does not appear to be due simply to differences in molecular weight. It is postulated that the differences in the copolymer and the S–PS ionomers may originate with differences in sulfonate distribution. It is suggested that the SSS monomer units are incorporated as blocks in the copolymer as opposed to a more random distribution in the S–PS ionomer. Indirect evidence in support of his argument is found, for example, in the case of the copolymer in the solubility behavior, the relative independence of Tg on sulfonate concentration and the apparent existence of a second, high temperature transition tentatively attributable to an ion-rich phase. Additional studies are required to confirm this hypothesis.