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Designed Nanoscale Heterogeneities for Controlling Water-Borne Pressure-Sensitive Adhesive Performance

Final Report Summary - NSHAPE (Designed Nanoscale Heterogeneities for Controlling Water-Borne Pressure-Sensitive Adhesive Performance)

The pressure-sensitive adhesive (PSA) industry contributes significantly to the European economy and encompasses chemical suppliers, polymer producers, coating companies and end users. The recent environmental and health restrictions on emission of organic solvents from industrial processes mobilised the development of water-borne PSAs (wb-PSAs) which are nowadays selected for a series of applications, including healthcare, aerospace and automotive, construction, assembly and data tracking industries. However, wb-PSAs demonstrate limited adhesive strength and ability to bond to non-polar substrates in comparison with solvent-cast materials.

The NSHAPE project aimed to overcome these limitations and establish strategies to control wb-PSAs' performance. The acquired knowledge enabled the development of industrial-scale processes and prototypes for high-performance, commercially viable products. In addition, the project results were transferable to other types of water-borne coating materials such as paints, lacquers and inks.

The project was structured in five distinct, yet interrelated, work packages (WPs) which undertook the following activities:
1. latex synthesis and characterisation, including the definition and synthesis of industrial and laboratory benchmark latexes and the development of methods for controlled preparation of a range of products. The most promising latexes were further optimised and evaluated by the project partners, while the strategies that did not produce exploitable results were abandoned.
2. adhesive film formation and characterisation. Optimum conditions for atomic force microscopy (AFM) of wb-PSA films were determined and exploited to identify latex morphologies and provide information on the films which were produced using the new wb-PSAs. The innovative findings regarding segregation and structural heterogeneities enabled the formulation of guidelines for further improvement of the latex synthesis strategy.
3. adhesive testing and evaluation. A series of screening methods were identified and benchmark adhesive performance profiles were produced. Moreover, analytical probe test methods in tension and shear were implemented, as well as measurement, modelling and analysis of non-linear deformation. Therefore, key parameters for controlling the entire process were identified, the effects of shell cross-linking were evaluated and a series of optimisation criteria were determined. In addition, predictive mathematical modelling of the mechanical behaviour of the films was achieved.
4. evaluation of the proposals' technical feasibility. Three prototype PSA latexes were produced and coated at pilot scale in order to assess their commercial viability. The prototypes' performance was progressively improved and the third one was promising in terms of its potential use in chemical container and drum labelling applications.
5. project management and assessment.

A patent application aimed to protect the most innovative of the new wb-PSAs. The developed techniques and the produced results were disseminated to the scientific community through various activities which were planned to continue beyond the project lifetime. The attained progress was anticipated to enable optimum commercial exploitation of wb-PSAs, resulting in social benefits for the industry workers and the general public. Moreover, the proposals' reduced cost in comparison to conventional materials implied a series of economic advantages. Finally, the project findings assisted the development of new coating materials that could be exploited by other industrial sectors.

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