Molecules Weight Dependence of Melt Viscosity

The flow behavior of low molecular weight polymers differs significantly from that of high molecular weight polymers. As one might expect, melts and solutions of (very) low molecular weight behave like Newtonian liquids, that is, the viscosity is shear rate independent. This is not necessarily the case for polymers of high molecular weight where entanglement of polymer molecules takes place, that is, entangled polymers show a much stronger resistance to flow, and since polymers tend to disentangle when subjected to shear above a critical value ýc, the viscosity depends on the shear rate ý whereas below ýc the viscosity is more or less constant. The shear rate dependence (shear thinning) is usually expressed in a power law:

η = const.    for  ýýc

η = Φ ýn-1   for  ýýc

where  ýc is the critical shear rate for the transition from Newtonian to shear thinning behavior, Φ is an interaction constant which depends on the polymer structure, and n is the power-law coefficient describing the shear thinning behavior.6

To be able to compare the rheology of polymers with different MW, the dependence on shear rate has to be eliminated. This can be achieved by using the zero shear-rate viscosity, η0, which is the viscosity in the limit of infinite small shear rate. As the name suggest, this viscosity can not be measured but has to be extrapolated. At this shear rate, Newtonian or quasi Newtonian behavior is observed, and when the molecular weight drops below a certain threshold where entanglements between chains become unlikely or even impossible, the viscosity is directly proportional to the molecular weight M. The critical molecular weight for entanglement coupling is about two times the entanglement weight, Mc = 2Me. Above this value, the zero shear rate viscosity can be described by a simple power law:1,2,5

η0  = kl · MM < Mc

η0  = km · MαM > Mc

The power-law coefficient α of polymer melts has a value of about 3.4 ± 0.2.

As has been shown by Nichetti eta al. (1998)3, the critical shear rate ýc is a function of the molecular weight.  At ý = ýc the zero shear rate viscosity η0 has to be equal to the power law viscosity:

η0 = km Mα = Φ ýcn-1 


ýc = (Φ / km Mα)1/(n-1) 

The parameter α is the inverse of n: n = α-1. This is not surprising since n describes the disentanglement (shear-thinning) an α the entanglement state at zero shear rate.

The critical shear rate ýc can also be derived from the characteristic disentanglement or relaxation time τR which is inverse proportional to the critical shear rate:3,4

ýc = τR-1

The relaxation time depends on the polymer concentration and type of solvent (if present). For example, in a melt τR is proportional to M3.4 whereas for polymers in a dilute theta-solvent τRM3/2 and in a bad solvent τRM.

References and Notes
  1. T.G. Fox, P.J. Flory, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 70, 2384-2395 (1948)
  2. T.G. Fox, P.J. Flory, J. Polym. Sci., 14, 315-319 (1954)
  3. D. Nichetti, I. Manas-Zloczowera, J. Rheol., 42 (4), 951-969 (1998)
  4. M. Bouldin, W.-M. Kulicke, H. Kehler, Coll. and Poly. Sci., Vol. 266, 9, 793–805 (1988)
  5. Lewis J. Fetters, David J. Lohse, and Scott T. Milner, Macromolecules, 32, 6847-6851 (1999)
  6. For n = 1, the viscosity is shear rate independent. Newtonian behavior is observed at both very high and very low shear rates. The first Newtonian limit is often denoted as η0 and the second as η.

  • Summary

    Polymer Melt

    The rheological behavior of polymer melts depends on  the molecular weight and molecular weight distribution of the polymer.

  • Newtonian behavior is only observed at very low and very high shear rates because at low shear rates, molecules don't "feel" the entanglements whereas at very high shear rates the strong shear forces cause the molecules to completely disentangle.

  • At low molecular weight where entanglement coupling is absent, the zero shear rate viscosity is directly propertional to the molecular weight.

  • At what shear rate the viscosity of entangled polymer melts departs from the non-Newtonian behavior depends on the molecular weight. 


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