Ultrasonication has proved to be a highly advantageous method for depolymerizing macromolecules because it reduces their molecular weight simply by splitting the most susceptible chemical bond without causing any changes in the chemical nature of the polymer. Most of the effects involved in controlling molecular weight can be attributed to the large shear gradients and shock waves generated around collapsing cavitation bubbles. In general, for any polymer degradation process to become acceptable to industry, it is necessary to be able to specify the sonication conditions which lead to a particular relative molar mass distribution. This necessitates the identification of the appropriate irradiation power, temperature, concentration and irradiation time. According to the results of this study the reactors constructed worked well in depolymerization and it was possible to degrade aqueous polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) polymer with ultrasound. The most extensive degradation took place at the lowest frequency used in this study, i.e. 23 kHz, when the input power was above the cavitation threshold and at the lowest test concentration of PVA, i.e. 1% (w/w). Thus this study confirms the general assumption that the shear forces generated by the rapid motion of the solvent following cavitational collapse are responsible for the breakage of the chemical bonds within the polymer. The effect of polymer concentration can be interpreted in terms of the increase in viscosity with concentration, causing the molecules to become less mobile in solution and the velocity gradients around the collapsing bubbles to therefore become smaller.
- polyvinyl alcohol