Effect of Cellulose Nanocrystals on the Rheology, Curing Behavior, and Fracture Performance of Phenol-Formaldehyde Resol Resin


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Virginia Tech


The purpose of this research was to determine the effects of cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs), as potential additives, on the properties and performance of phenol–formaldehyde (PF) adhesive resin. The steady-state viscosity of a commercial PF resol resin and three CNC–resin mixtures, containing 1–3 wt % CNCs, based on solids content, was measured with a rheometer as a function of shear rate. The viscosity of the PF resin itself was independent of shear rate. The viscosity–shear rate curves of the CNC–resin mixtures showed two regions, a shear thinning region at lower shear rates and a Newtonian region at higher shear rates. The low-shear-rate viscosity of the resin was greatly increased by the CNCs.

The structure of the CNC–resin mixtures under quiescent conditions was analyzed by polarized light microscopy. The mixtures contained CNC aggregates, which could be disrupted by ultrasound treatment. The curing progressions of the resin and CNC–resin mixtures were analyzed by non-isothermal differential scanning calorimetry (DSC). The DSC curves showed two exotherms followed by an endotherm. The energy of activation for the first exotherm was reduced by the CNCs whereas the energy of activation for the second exotherm was not affected by the CNCs. Increasing CNC contents caused higher degrees of reaction conversion during the first curing stage and a greater loss of sample mass, attributed to formaldehyde release during resin cure.

For analysis of the mechanical properties during and after cure, sandwich-type test specimens were prepared from southern yellow pine strips and the resin and CNC–resin mixtures. The mechanical properties of the test specimens were measured as a function of time and temperature by dynamic mechanical analysis (DMA). The time to incipient storage modulus increase decreased and the rate of relative storage modulus increase increased with increasing CNC content. The ultimate sample stiffness increased with increasing CNC content for CNC contents between 0 and 2 wt %, which was attributed to mechanical reinforcement of the resin by the CNCs. At a CNC content of 3 wt %, the ultimate sample stiffness was lower than at a CNC content of 2 wt % and the second tan δ maximum occurred earlier in the experiment, indicating an earlier onset of vitrification. The lower ultimate sample stiffness was attributed to premature quenching of the curing reactions through CNC-induced depression of the vitrification point.

For analysis of the fracture performance, double cantilever beam test specimens were prepared from southern yellow pine beams and the resin and CNC–resin mixtures, using different hot-pressing times. Fracture energies were measured by mode I cleavage tests. Bondline characteristics were analyzed by light microscopy. At a hot-pressing time of 10 min, the fracture energy decreased with increasing CNC content, whereas it stayed constant for CNC contents between 1 and 3 wt % at a hot-pressing time of 8 min. The bondlines of resin mixtures containing CNCs exhibited voids, whereas those of the pure resin did not. CNCs had both benefitial and detrimental effects on the properties and performace of PF resin.



viscosity, fracture testing, phenol formaldehyde resin, cellulose nanocrystals, dynamic mechanical analysis, differential scanning calorimetry, rheology