Usually, the nature of surface-induced nucleation in polymer blends is not easily disclosed. A novel approach for studying surface-induced crystallization in blends of semicrystalline polymers is proposed here. It consists of detecting variations in the crystallization kinetics of the dispersed phase with changing the crystalline state of the matrix through self-nucleation. It can be used only when the dispersed phase has a lower melting temperature than the matrix phase. As a case study, the crystallization behavior of dispersed polyethylene droplets in a polypropylene matrix was investigated. An enhancement of crystallization kinetics of polyethylene was achieved when the lamellar thickness of polypropylene increased, and it was proved by the formation of a transcrystalline layer of polyethylene at the interface, as observed by scanning electron microscopy. Compared to the self-nucleated neat polyethylene, the efficiency of the nucleating effect of polypropylene toward polyethylene was estimated around 140%. This result together with a very low value for the interfacial free energy difference as obtained from isothermal crystallization measurements is evidence that such surface-induced nucleation occurs through epitaxial growth. Moreover, a mechanism of polyethylene nuclei formation through epitaxy, which was proposed in the literature, was proved to be valid for blends of the two polymers through small- and wide-angle X-ray scattering structural analysis. While epitaxy between polyethylene and polypropylene was previously shown only for ideal systems such as thin-layered films, it is hereby reported for common melt mixed blends of the two polyolefins.
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