Multiscale Modeling of the Effects of Nanoscale Load Transfer on the Effective Elastic Properties of Carbon Nanotube-Polymer Nanocomposites

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Virginia Tech

A multiscale model is proposed to study the influence of interfacial interactions at the nanoscale in carbon nanotube(CNT)-polymer nanocomposites on the macroscale bulk elastic material properties. The efficiency of CNT reinforcement in terms of interfacial load transferring is assessed for the non-functionalized and functionalized interfaces between the CNTs and polymer matrix using force field based molecular dynamic simulations at the nanoscale. Polyethylene (PE) as a thermoplastic material is adopted and studied first because of its simplicity. Characterization of the nanoscale load transfer has been done through the identification of representative nanoscale interface elements for unfunctionalized CNT-PE interface models which are studied parametrically in terms of the length of the PE chains, the number of the PE chains and the "grip" position. Referring to the non-functionalized interface, CNTs interact with surrounding polymer only through weakly nonbonded van der Waals (vdW) forces in our study. Once appropriate values of these parameters are deemed to yield sufficiently converged results, the representative interface elements are subjected to normal and sliding mode simulations in order to obtain the force-separation responses at 100K and 300K for unfunctionalized CNT-PE interfaces. To study the functionalization effects, atomistic interface representative elements for functionalized CNT-PE interface are built based on non-functionalized interface models by grafting functional groups between the PE matrix and the graphene sheet. This introduces covalent bonding forces in addition to the non-bonded vdW forces. A modified consistent covalent force field (CVFF) and adaptive intermolecular reactive empirical bond order (AIREBO) potentials, both of which account for bond breaking, are applied to investigate the interfacial characteristic of functionalized CNT-PE interface in terms of the force-separation responses at 100K in both normal opening and sliding mode separations. In these studies, the focus has been on the influence of the functionalization density on the load transfer at the nanoscale interface.

As an important engineering material, Epon 862/DETDA epoxy polymer,a thermoset plastic, has also been used as the polymer matrix material in order to see the difference in interfacial load transfer between a network structured polymer and the amorphous entangled structure of the PE matrix. As for thermoset epoxy polymer, emphasis has been put on investigating the effects of the crosslink density of the epoxy network on the interfacial load transfer ability for both non-functionalized and functionalized CNT-Epoxy interface at different temperatures(100K and 300K) and on the functionalization effect influenceing the interfacial interactions at the functionalized CNT-Epoxy interface.

Cohesive zone traction-displacement laws are developed based on the force-separation responses obtained from the MD simulations for both non-functionalied and functionalized CNT-PE/epoxy interfaces. Using the cohesive zone laws, the influence of the interface on the effective elastic material properties of the nanocomposites are observed and determined in continuum level models using analytic and computational micromechanics approaches, allowing for the assessment of the improvement in reinforcement efficiency of CNTs due to the functionalization. It is found that the inclusion of the nanoscale interface in place of the perfectly bonded interface results in effective elastic properties which are dependent on the applied strain and temperature in accordance with the interface sensitivity to those effects, and which are significantly diminished from those obtained under the perfect interface assumption for non-functionalized nanocomposites. Better reinforcement efficiency of CNTs are also observed for the nanocomposites with the functionalized interface between CNTs and polymer matrix, which results in large increasing for the effective elastic material properties relative to the non-functionalized nanocomposites with pristine CNTs. Such observations indicates that trough controlling the degree of functionalization, i.e. the number and distribution of covalent bonds between the embedded CNTs and the enveloping polymer, one can tailor to some degree the interfacial load transfer and hence, the effective mechanical properties.

The multiscale model developed in this study bridges the atomistic modeling and micromechanics approaches with cohesive zone models, which demonstrates to deepen the understanding of the nanoscale load transfer mechanism at the interface and its effects on the effective mechanical properties of the nanocomposites. It is anticipated that the results can offer insights about how to engineer the interface and improve the design of nanocomposites.

Multiscale modeling, carbon nanotube nanocomposites, interface, molecular dynamic simulation, cohesive zone, composite cylinder model, Finite element method