Thermoplastic expandable microspheres (TEMs) are spherical particles that consist of polymer shell encapsulating a low boiling point liquid hydrocarbon that acts as the blowing agent. When TEMs are heated at 80-190 C, the polymer shell softens and the hydrocarbon gasifies, causing the microspheres expand leading to increase in volume and decrease in density. TEMs are used in food packaging, elastomeric cool roof coatings, shoe soles, fiber and paper board, and various applications in the automotive industry. It is noted that TEMs are known by its brand name ‘Expancel’ which is also used to refer TEMs in this paper.
The objective of this work was to develop and characterize forms prepared from TEMs with/without carbon nanofibers (CNFs) coatings to study the effect of CNFs on structural, thermal, and mechanical properties.
Sonochemical method was used to coat TEMs with various weight percentage (1, 2, and 3 %) of CNF. Neat foam (without CNF) and composite foams (TEMs coated with various wt.% of CNF) were prepared by compression molding the TEMs and TEMs-CNF composites powders. Thermal and mechanical properties of the neat and composite foams were investigated.
The mechanical properties of the composite foam were notably improved, which is exhibited by a 54% increase in flexural modulus and a 6% decrease in failure strain with the TEMs-(2 wt.% CNF) composite foam as compared to the neat foam. Improvement in thermal properties of composite foam was demonstrated by a 38% increase in thermal stability at 800 ºC with the TEMs-(1 wt.% CNF) composite foam as compared to the neat foam. However, no change in glass transition of TEMs was observed with the CNF coating. SEM-based analysis revealed that CNFs were well dispersed throughout the volume of the TEMs matrix forming a strong interface.
Straightforward sonochemical method successfully triggered efficient coating of TEMs with CNFs resulting to strong adhesion interface. The mechanical properties of composite foams increased up to 2% of CNFs coating and then decreased with the higher coating presumably due to interwoven bundles and aggregation of CNFs, which might have acted as critical flaws to initiate and propagate cracking. Thermal properties of foams increased with the CNFs coating while no change in glass transition temperature was observed due to coating.
Self-supported electrocatalytic thin films consist 3D conducting network and well-embedded electrocatalysts, which endows the advantage in mass flow kinetics and durability for large-scale water splitting. Synthesis of such self-supported electrode still remains a big challenge due to the difficulty in the control over the 3D conducting network and the simultaneous growth of catalyst with well attachment on the conducting fibers. Herein, a self-supported [email protected] nanofibers ([email protected] NF) film has been successfully fabricated with outstanding electrocatalytic performance under optimized pyrolysis temperature and precursors mass ratio conditions. During the carbonation process, the Mo2C nanoparticles (~16 nm) are simultaneously grown and well dispersed on the inter-connected carbon nanofibers, which form 3D conducting network. The as-formed 3D carbon network is strong enough to support direct electrocatalytic application without additional ink or supporting substrates. This particular electrode structure facilitates easy access to the active catalytic sites, electron transfer, and hydrogen diffusion, resulting in the high hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) activity. A low overpotential of 86 mV is needed to achieve 10 mA cm-2 current density with outstanding kinetics metric (Tafel 43 mV dec-1) in 1M KOH. Additionally, the self-supported [email protected] NF film, a binder-free electrode, exhibits extraordinary stability of more than 340 h.
Carbon nanofibers with multi-scale pores have been easily constructed by synchronous water etching during the carbonization process of PAN nanofibers, reducing the additional consumption of energy and time. After etching by high-temperature water vapor, the fiber surface becomes more coarse, and large amounts of etched pits are formed, effectively increasing the electrode’s specific surface area and hydrophilicity. Oxygen content is also significantly increased, which may effectively increase the electrocatalytic active sites of the electrode. Electrochemical tests verified the improved electrocatalytic activity and increased effective surface area. As a result, the VRFB single cell with water vapor etched carbon nanofibers as its electrode shows higher battery efficiencies than that with pristine carbon nanofibers; the energy efficiency improves by nearly 9.4% at 200 mA·cm-2. After 100 charge/discharge cycles, the battery efficiency has no obvious attenuation, and the capacity attenuation rate of single cycle is nearly 0.26%，suggesting a satisfactory cycling stability. This green and simple method for constructing multi-scale porous carbon nanofibers electrode is expected to achieve large-scale production of high-performance electrode materials, and can be applied in various electrochemical energy storage systems.