Despite the many interesting properties of cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs), their hydrophilicity is one of the main challenges for their processing with hydrophobic polymers and matrices. To overcome this challenge, this paper describes the preparation of brush-like CNCs with tailored surface properties by grafting alcohols of different chain lengths onto their surfaces. Ethanol, 1-butanol, 1-hexanol, and 1-octanol were grafted on the CNC surface using 2,4-toluene diisocyanate (TDI) as a linker. The CNCs were characterized for their structural, morphological, surface, and thermal properties. Because of the grafting, the water contact angle of the CNCs significantly increased from 32° to up to 120°, which was dependent on the chain length of the grafted alcohol. The thermal stability of the CNCs was also improved, mainly as a result of the reaction of TDI with the CNC hydroxyl groups. Later, the CNCs were used to reinforce films of poly(butylene succinate) (PBS), which were then characterized using dynamic mechanical analysis (DMA) and thermogravimetric analysis (TGA). An increase of up to two-fold in the storage modulus was observed using DMA, which was dependent on the chain length of the grafted alcohol. However, no change in the glass transition temperature or degradation temperature of PBS was detected. This approach is proved efficient for tailoring the surface properties of CNCs towards excellent interfacial adhesion in their composites.
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