Carbon nanotubes on carbon fibers : synthesis, structures and properties


Qiuhong Zhang

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Materials Engineering


Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering


Advisor: Liming Dai


The interface between carbon fibers (CFs) and the resin matrix in traditional high performance composites is characterized by a large discontinuity in mechanical, electrical, and thermal properties which can cause inefficient energy transfer. Due to the exceptional properties of carbon nanotubes (CNTs), their growth at the surface of carbon fibers is a promising approach to controlling interfacial interactions and achieving the enhanced bulk properties. However, the reactive conditions used to grow carbon nanotubes also have the potential to introduce defects that can degrade the mechanical properties of the carbon fiber (CF) substrate. In this study, using thermal chemical vapor deposition (CVD) method, high density multi-wall carbon nanotubes have been successfully synthesized directly on PAN-based CF surface without significantly compromising tensile properties. The influence of CVD growth conditions on the single CF tensile properties and carbon nanotube (CNT) morphology was investigated. The experimental results revealed that under high temperature growth conditions, the tensile strength of CF was greatly decreased at the beginning of CNT growth process with the largest decrease observed for sized CFs. However, the tensile strength of unsized CFs with CNT was approximately the same as the initial CF at lower growth temperature. The interfacial shear strength of CNT coated CF (CNT/CF) in epoxy was studied by means of the single-fiber fragmentation test. Results of the test indicate an improvement in interfacial shear strength with the addition of a CNT coating. This improvement can most likely be attributed to an increase in the interphase yield strength as well as an improvement in interfacial adhesion due to the presence of the nanotubes. CNT/CF also offers promise as stress and strain sensors in CF reinforced composite materials. This study investigates fundamental mechanical and electrical properties of CNT/CF using nanoindentation method by designed localized transverse compression at low loads (uN to mN) and small displacements (nm to a few um). Force, strain, stiffness, and electrical resistance were monitored simultaneously during compression experiments. The results showed that CNT/CF possess a high sensing capability between force and resistance. Hysteresis in both force-displacement and resistance-displacement curves was observed with CNT/CF, but was more evident as maximum strain increased and did not depend on strain rate. Force was higher and resistance was lower during compression as compared to decompression. A model is proposed to explain hysteresis where van der Waals forces between deformed and entangled nanotubes hinder decompression of some of the compressed tubes that are in contact with each other. This study provides a new understanding of the mechanical and electrical behavior of CNT/CF that will facilitate usage as stress and strain sensors in both stand-alone and composite materials applications. A novel method for in situ observation of nano-micro scale CNT/CF mechanical behavior by SEM has been developed in this study. The results indicated that deformation of vertical aligned CNT (VACNT) forest followed a column-like bending mechanism under localized radial (axial) compression. No fracture was observed even at very high compression strain on a VACNT forest. In order to fully understand CNT forest properties, the viscous creep behavior of VACNT arrays grown on flat Si substrate has also been characterized using a nanoindentation method. Resulting creep response was observed to consist of a short transient stage and a steady state stage in which the rate of displacement was constant. The strain rate sensitivity depended on the density of the nanotube arrays, but it was independent of the ramping (compression) rate of the indenter.


Nanotubes Design and construction, Carbon fibers, Nanostructured materials

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Copyright 2010, author