The composition and structure of polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursors play an important role during thermal stabilization, which influences the properties of the resulting carbon fibers. In this paper, PAN homopolymer and PAN-itaconic (IA) copolymers with different IA contents were synthesized by aqueous phase precipitation polymerization. The effects of IA content on the structure and thermal properties were studied using scanning electron microscopy (SEM), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), X-ray diffraction (XRD), differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), and thermogravimetric analysis (TGA). The morphology of PAN polymers showed that the average size of the PAN particles increased with the increase of IA content in the feed. The content of the IA comonomer on the copolymers was quantitatively characterized by the relative absorbance intensity (A1735
) in FTIR spectrum. With the increase of IA content in the feed, PAN-IA copolymers exhibited lower degree of crystallinity and crystal size than the control PAN homopolymer. The results from DSC curves indicated that PAN-IA1.0 copolymers had lower initial exothermic temperature (192.4 °C) and velocity of evolving heat (6.33 J g−1
) in comparison with PAN homopolymer (Ti
= 238.1 °C and ΔH
= 34.6 J g−1
) in an air atmosphere. TGA results suggested that PAN-IA1.0 copolymers had higher thermal stability than PAN homopolymer, which can form a ladder structure easier during thermal processing. Therefore, PAN-IA1.0 copolymers would be a suitable candidate for preparing high performance PAN based carbon fibers.
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