Fatigue, Fracture and Impact of Hybrid Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer Composites

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Virginia Tech

The excellent in-plane strength and stiffness to-weight ratios, as well as the ease of manufacturing have made the carbon fiber reinforced polymer composites (CFRPs) suitable structural materials for variety of applications such as aerospace, automotive, civil, sporting goods, etc. Despite the outstanding performance of the CFRPs along their fibers direction (on-axis), they lack sufficient strength and performance in the out-of-plane and off-axis directions. Various chemical and mechanical methods were reported to enhance the CFRPs' out-of-plane performance. However, there are two major drawbacks for utilizing these approaches: first, most of these methods induce damage to the carbon fibers and, therefore, deteriorate the in-plane mechanical properties of the entire CFRP, and second, the methods with minimal deteriorating effects on the in-plane mechanical performance have their own limitations resulting in very confined mechanical performance improvements. These methods include integrating nano-sized reinforcements into the CFRPs' structure to form a hybrid or hierarchical CFRPs.

In lieu to all the aforementioned approaches, a relatively novel method, referred to as graphitic structures by design (GSD), has been proposed. The GSD is capable of grafting carbon nanotubes (CNTs) onto the carbon fibers surfaces, providing high concentration of CNTs where they are most needed, i.e. the immediate fiber/matrix interface, and in-between the different laminae of a CFRP. This method shows promising improvements in the in-plane and out-of-plane performance of CFRPs. Zinc oxide (ZnO) nanorods are other nano-sized reinforcing structures which can hybridize the CFRPs via their radially growth on the surface of carbon fibers. Among all the reported methods for synthesizing ZnO nanorods, hydrothermal technique is the most straightforward and least destructive route to grow ZnO nanorods over carbon fibers.

In this dissertation, the GSD-CNTs growth method and the hydrothermal growth of ZnO nanorods have been utilized to fabricate hybrid CFRPs. The effect of different ZnO nanorods growth morphologies, e.g. size distribution and alignment, on the in-plane tensile performance and vibration attenuation capabilities of the hybrid CFRPs are investigated via quasi-static tension and dynamical mechanical analysis (DMA) tests, respectively. As a result, the in-plane tensile strength of the hybrid CFRPs were improved by 18% for the composite based on randomly oriented ZnO nanorods over the carbon fibers. The loss tangent of the CFRPs, which indicates the damping capability, increased by 28% and 19% via radially and randomly grown ZnO nanorods, respectively.

While there are several studies detailing the effects of dispersed nanofillers on the fracture toughness of FRPs, currently, there are no literature detailing the effect of surface GSD grown CNTs and ZnO nanowire -on carbon fiber- on the fracture toughness of these hybrid composites. This dissertation probes the effects of surface grown nano-sized reinforcements on the fracture toughness via double cantilever beam (DCB) tests on hybrid ZnO nanorod or CNT grafted CFRPs. Results show that the surface grown CNTs enhanced the Mode I interlaminar fracture toughness (GIc) of the CFRPs by 22% and 32%, via uniform and patterned growth morphologies, respectively, over the reference composite based on untreated carbon fiber fabrics.

The dissertation also explains the basis of the improvements of the fracture toughness via finite element method (FEM). In particular, FEM was employed to simulate the interlaminar crack growth behavior of the hybrid CFRPs under Mode I crack opening loading conditions embodied by the DCB tests. These simulations revealed that the hybrid CFRP based on fibers with uniform surface grown MWCNTs exhibited 55% higher interlaminar strength compared to the reference CFRPs. Moreover, via patterned growth of MWCNTs, the ultimate crack opening resistance of the CFRPs improved by 20%. To mimic the experimental behavior of the various CFRPs, a new methodology has been utilized to accurately simulate the unstable crack growth nature of CFRPs.

Several investigations reported the effects of adding nanomaterials-including CNTs- as a filler phase inside the matrix material, on the impact energy absorption of the hybrid FRPs. However, the impact mitigation performance of CFRPs based on ZnO nanorod grafted carbon fibers has not been reported. The dynamic out-of-plane energy dissipation capabilities of different hybrid composites were investigated utilizing high velocity (~90 m/s) impact tests. Comparing the results of the hybrid MWCNT/ZnO nanorod/CFRP with those of reference CFRP, 21% and 4% improvements were observed in impact energy absorption and tensile strain to failure of the CFRPs, respectively.

In addition to elevated stiffness and strength, CFRPs should possess enough tolerance not only to monotonic loadings, but also to cyclic loadings to be qualified as alternatives to traditional structural metal alloys. Therefore, the fatigue life of CFRPs is of much interest. Despite the promising potential of incorporating nano-sized reinforcements into the CFRPs structure, not many studies reported on the fatigue behavior of hybrid CFRPs so far. In particular, there are no reported investigations to the effect of surface grown CNTs on the fatigue behavior of the hybrid CFRPs, due to fact that almost all the CNT growth techniques (except for the GSD method) deteriorated the in-plane performance of the hybrid CFRPs. The hybrid ZnO nanorod grafted CFRPs have not been investigated under fatigue loading as well. In this dissertation, different hybrid CFRPs were tested under tension-tension fatigue to reveal the effects of the different nano-reinforcements growth on the fatigue behavior of the CFRPs. A remarkable fatigue damage tolerance was observed for the CFRPs based on uniform and patterned grown CNT fibers. Almost two decades of fatigue life extension was achieved for CFRPs based on surface grown MWCNTs.

carbon fiber, hybrid composites, carbon nanotubes, ZnO nanorods, mechanical characterization, finite element modeling, Fatigue