Enhanced water barrier properties of surfactant-free polymer films obtained by MacroRAFT-mediated emulsion polymerization

The presence of low-molar-mass surfactants in latex films results in detrimental effects on their water permeability, gloss, and adhesion. For applications such as coatings, there is a need to develop formulations that do not contain surfactants and have better water barrier properties. Having previously reported the synthesis of surfactant-free latex particles in water using low amounts ( < 2 wt %) of chains synthesized by controlled radical polymerization (Lesage de la Haye et al. Macromolecules 2017, 50, 9315-9328), here we study the water barrier properties of films made from these particles and their application in anticorrosion coatings. When films cast from aqueous dispersions of acrylate copolymer particles stabilized with poly(sodium 4-styrenesulfonate) (PSSNa) were immersed in water for 3 days, they sorbed only 4 wt % water. This uptake is only slightly higher than the value predicted for the pure copolymer, indicating that the negative effects of any particle boundaries and hydrophilic-stabilizing molecules are minimal. This sorption of liquid water is 5 times lower than what is found in films cast from particles stabilized with the same proportion of poly(methacrylic acid) (PMAA), which is more hydrophilic than PSSNa. In water vapor with 90% relative humidity, the PSSNa-based film had an equilibrium sorption of only 4 wt %. A small increase in the PMAA content has a strong and negative impact on the barrier properties. Nuclear magnetic resonance relaxometry on polymer films after immersion in water shows that water clusters have the smallest size in the films containing PSSNa. Furthermore, these films retain their optical clarity during immersion in liquid water for up to 90 min, whereas all other compositions quickly develop opacity ("water whitening") as a result of light scattering from sorbed water. This implies a remarkably complete coalescence and a very small density of defects, which yields properties matching those of some solvent-borne films. The latex stabilized with PSSNa is implemented as the binder in a paint formulation for application as an anticorrosive barrier coating on steel substrates and evaluated in accelerated weathering and corrosion tests. Our results demonstrate the potential of self-stabilized latex particles for the development of different applications, such as waterborne protective coatings and pressure-sensitive adhesives.