Strengthening Polylactic Acid by Salification: Surface Characterization Study

J. Schlosser, K. Fouladi, B. Eslami
Widener University,
United States

Keywords: surface characterization, scanning probe microscopy, additive manufacturing, PLA, multifrequency AFM


Polylactic acid (PLA) is one of the market's most commonly used biodegradable polymers, with diverse applications in additive manufacturing, specifically fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printing. The use of PLA in complex and sophisticated FDM applications is continually growing. However, the increased range of applications requires a better understanding of the material properties of this polymer. For example, recent studies have shown that PLA has the potential to be used in artificial heart valves. Still, the durability and longevity of this material in such a harsh environment are unknown, as heart valve failures have been attributed to salification. Additionally, there is a gap in the field for in-situ material characterization of PLA surfaces during stiffening. The present study aims to benchmark different dynamic atomic force microscopy (AFM) techniques available to study the salification phenomenon of PLA at micro-scales using different PLA thin films with various salt concentrations (i.e., 10%, 15% and 20% of sodium chloride (NaCl)). The measurements are done by tapping mode AFM, bimodal AFM, force spectroscopy technique, and energy quantity analysis. These measurements have shown a stiffening phenomenon occurring as the salt solution is increased, but the change is not all equally sensitive to material properties differences. Tapping mode AFM has provided accurate topographical information while the associated phase images are not considered reliable. On the other hand, bimodal AFM is shown to be capable of providing the topographical information and material compositional mapping through the higher eignemode's phase channel. The dissipated power energy quantities indicate that it can be measured how the polymers become less dissipative as salt concentration increases. Lastly, it is shown that force spectroscopy is the most sensitive technique in detecting the differences in properties. The comparison of these techniques can provide a helpful guideline for studying the material properties of PLA polymers at micro- and nano-scale that can prove beneficial in various fields.