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Micro- and Nanofibers: Mass and Top-of-the-Range Reinforcements

SpecialChem / May 17, 2011

Beside nanoclays, the most used in the nanocomposites, solid and hollow (or nanotubes) nanofibers offer not only an exciting alternative for high-tech nanocomposites with unique mechanical properties, thermal and electrical conductivities, but also a wicked price.

For micro- and nano-fibers or nanotubes, thinner and longer agree with tougher. High fiber drawings, diameters dropping below the critical diameter and high aspect ratios dramatically increasing the interface fiber/matrix lead to sophisticated nanostructures and better cohesion with unique mechanical performance.

Glass microfibers are mass produced and commonly used for plastics reinforcement. Current trends evolve towards ultra-thin fibers with diameters down to a few microns. Advantages are a better flexibility combined with a higher tensile strength.

Carbon microfibers used in high-performance composites are about 5–10nm in diameter and composed mostly of carbon atoms bonded together in microscopic crystals. Nanofibers have submicron diameters and high aspect ratios. Carbon nanofibers and ceramic nanofibers are produced by graphitization or heat treatments of polymer or inorganic nanofibers. Polymer nanofibers can be produced by interfacial polymerization and electrospinning.

Carbon nanotubes succeed in nanocomposite applications but their incorporation is difficult. So, additive concentrates, masterbatches and ready-to-use compounds are marketed to ease their use by final transformers. After BCC Research, the value of the global carbon nanotubes market is expected to highly increase by the end of 2010 and must soar in next years.

Vapor grown carbon nanofibres (VGCNF) fill the gap between conventional carbon fibers and nanotubes. Some natural mineral nanotubes consisting in treated native clay nanotubes are newly commercialized. According to the environmental trends, eco-friendly renewable cellulose nanofibers are a unique opportunity to take the place of heavy and energy-consuming glass fibers.

Nylon and polyester nanofibers are industrially produced for textile applications and more exotic nanofibers and nanotubes are studied at a laboratory scale, differing by the nature, the morphology and the structure, for example polymer nanofibers and nanotubes, ceramic nanofibees and nanotubes.

Lastly, surface modifications, core-shell structures, hybrid nanotubes and nanofibers are other new ways opening a huge field of progress.

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