A synthesis route is presented for the subsequent intercalation, exfoliation and surface modification of kaolinite (Kln) by an imidization reaction of high-molecular weight poly(styrene-co
-maleic anhydride) or SMA in the presence of ammonium hydroxide. In a first step, the intercalation of ammonolyzed SMA by guest displacement of intercalated dimethylsulfoxide has been proven. In a second step, the imidization of ammonolyzed SMA at 160 °C results in exfoliation of the kaolinite layers and deposition of poly(styrene-co-maleimide) or SMI nanoparticles onto the kaolinite surfaces. Compared with a physical mixture of Kln/SMI, the chemically reacted Kln/SMI provides more efficient exfoliation and hydrogen bonding between the nanoparticles and the kaolinite. The kaolinite nanocomposite particles are synthesized in aqueous dispersion with solid content of 65 wt %. The intercalation and exfoliation are optimized for a concentration ratio of Kln/SMI = 70:30, resulting in maximum intercalation and interlayer distance in combination with highest imide content. After thermal curing at 135 °C, the imidization proceeds towards a maximum conversion of the intermediate amic acid moieties. The changes in O–H stretching and kaolinite lattice vibrations have been illustrated by infrared and FT-Raman spectroscopy, which allow for a good quantification of concentration and imidization effects.
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