Megasupramolecules for safer, cleaner fuel by end association of long telechelic polymers

Science  02 Oct 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6256, pp. 72-75
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab0642

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Transient polymer links are better

Very long polymer molecules elongate in shearing flows. This ordering of the chains lowers the viscosity of small-molecule solvents. The chains also reduce the dangers of misting during explosive spreading of the solvents. However, the long polymer chains degrade during normal fuel handling and clog pumping equipment. Wei et al. used telechelic polymers—short chains with reactive end groups—to form extremely long chains in organic solvents (see the Perspective by Jaffe and Allam). These reformable polymers offer the potential for better fuel safety without the drawbacks of covalently bonded long-chain polymers.

Science, this issue p. 72; see also p. 32


We used statistical mechanics to design polymers that defy conventional wisdom by self-assembling into “megasupramolecules” (≥5000 kg/mol) at low concentration (≤0.3 weight percent). Theoretical treatment of the distribution of individual subunits—end-functional polymers—among cyclic and linear supramolecules (ring-chain equilibrium) predicts that megasupramolecules can form at low total polymer concentration if, and only if, the backbones are long (>400 kg/mol) and end-association strength is optimal. Viscometry and scattering measurements of long telechelic polymers having polycyclooctadiene backbones and acid or amine end groups verify the formation of megasupramolecules. They control misting and reduce drag in the same manner as ultralong covalent polymers. With individual building blocks short enough to avoid hydrodynamic chain scission (weight-average molecular weights of 400 to 1000 kg/mol) and reversible linkages that protect covalent bonds, these megasupramolecules overcome the obstacles of shear degradation and engine incompatibility.

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