Kristian Birk Buhl, Asger Holm Agergaard, Mie Lillethorup, Jakob Pagh Nikolajsen, Steen Uttrup Pedersen, Kim Daasbjerg
Creating strong joints between dissimilar materials for high-performance hybrid products places high demands on modern adhesives. Traditionally, adhesion relies on the compatibility between surfaces, often requiring the use of primers and thick bonding layers to achieve stable joints. The coatings of polymer brushes enable the compatibilization of material surfaces through precise control over surface chemistry, facilitating strong adhesion through a nanometer-thin layer. Here, we give a detailed account of our research on adhesion promoted by polymer brushes along with examples from industrial applications. We discuss two fundamentally different adhesive mechanisms of polymer brushes, namely (1) physical bonding via entanglement and (2) chemical bonding. The former mechanism is demonstrated by e.g., the strong bonding between poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) brush coated stainless steel and bulk PMMA, while the latter is shown by e.g., the improved adhesion between silicone and titanium substrates, functionalized by a hydrosilane-modified poly(hydroxyethyl methacrylate) (PHEMA) brush. This review establishes that the clever design of polymer brushes can facilitate strong bonding between metals and various polymer materials or compatibilize fillers or nanoparticles with otherwise incompatible polymeric matrices. To realize the full potential of polymer brush functionalized materials, we discuss the progress in the synthesis of polymer brushes under ambient and scalable industrial conditions, and present recent developments in atom transfer radical polymerization for the large-scale production of brush-modified materials.