Poly(L-lactic acid) (PLLA) is quite promising for use as biodegradable and non-petroleum derived plastics. In this study we developed an innovative two-step polycondensation process so as to produce economically PLLA with high molecular weight. The process is composed of both melt polycondensation under the lactide-re ux and solid-phase polycondensation. First we studied a direct polycondensation of L-lactic acid with a small amount of solvent, using a mixture of L-lactic acid as raw material, diphenyl ether as solvent, Tin (II) chloride dihydrate as catalyst, and p-toluene sulfonic acid as a discoloration prevention agent. After the dehydrative oligomerization of L-lactic acid, the polycondensation of the oligocondensates and solid-phase post-polycondensation, PLLA of Mw = 266,000 could be obtained. Then, we carried out direct bulk polycondensation tests from L-lactic acid without any solvent added. After optimization of the reaction conditions, PLLA with Mw = 134,000 was successfully produced by the melt-poly-condensation of L-lactic acid accompanied by solid-phase post-poly-condensation. In both systems, the lactide-re ux was indispensable for promoting dehydration/water removal. The re uent lactide was taken into the polymer-chain by trans-esterification reaction during the melt-poly-condesation. Furthermore, the catalyst was allowed to deactivate and stabilize during the solid-phase polymerization to cause the Mw growth.
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