Photochemical degradation of polystyrene

  • Ashley Scott

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In this work the oxidative degradation of pure polystyrene, polybutadiene and butadiene-modified polystyrene (normally called high impact polystyrene or HIPS) have been studied using a variety of physical and chemical techniques. The changes in dynamic-mechanical properties occurring during the ultra-violet light accelerated weathering of these polymers were followed by a visco-elastometric
technique (Rheovibron) in the solid phase over a wide temperature range.
Selective cross-linking of the polybutadiene in high-impact polystyrene caused the depression of the low temperature damping peak (tan d) with a corresponding sharp peak in tan d at ambient temperature accompanied by an integral rise in complex modulus. During the same period of photoxidation, the hydroperoxide concentration and gel content increased rapidly, reaching a maximum before decomposing photolytically with the destruction of unsaturation and with the formation of stable oxidation products. Infra-red spectroscopy showed the formation of carbonyl and hydroxyl groups. a,ß-unsaturated carbonyl was also identified and was formed by decomposition of both allylic hydroperoxide and initial peroxidic gel by ß-scission of the graft between polybutadiene and polystyrene. With further photoxidation a more stable ether gel was formed involving the destruction of the conjugating double bond of
a,ß-unsaturated carbonyl.
Addition of saturated and unsaturated ketones which are potential sensitisers of photoxidation to high-impact polystyrene and polybutadiene failed to photo-initiate the oxygen absorption of the polymers. A prior thermal oxidative treatment on the other hand eliminated the auto- accelerating stage leading to linear kinetics as the concentration of thermally-produced hydroperoxide approached a maximum. Antioxidants which act by destroying hydroperoxide lengthened the induction period to rapid oxygen absorption, whilst a phenolic antioxidant behaved as a weak photo-activator initially and a retarder later. Prior photolysis of high-impact polystyrene photo-activated the unsaturated
component and caused similar changes in dynamic-mechanical properties to those found during photoxidation although at a much lower rate. Polybutadiene behaves as a photo-pro-oxidant for the destruction of polystyrene in high-impact polystyrene.
Date of AwardJun 1976
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorGerald Scott (Supervisor)


  • Photochemical degradation
  • polystyrene

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