Mechanical properties of glass fiber reinforced composite materials are affected by fiber sizing. A complex film formation, based on a silane film and PVA/PVAc (polyvinyl alcohol/polyvinyl acetate) microspheres on a glass fiber surface is determined at 1) the nanoscale by using atomic force microscopy (AFM), and 2) the macroscale by using the zeta potential. Silane groups strongly bind through the SiOSi bond to the glass surface, which provides the attachment mechanism as a coupling agent. The silane groups form islands, a homogeneous film, as well as empty sites. The average roughness of the silanized surface is 6.5 nm, whereas it is only 0.6 nm for the non-silanized surface. The silane film vertically penetrates in a honeycomb fashion from the glass surface through the deposited PVA/PVAc microspheres to form a hexagonal close pack structure. The silane film not only penetrates, but also deforms the PVA/PVAc microspheres from the spherical shape in a dispersion to a ellipsoidal shape on the surface with average dimensions of 300/600 nm. The surface area value Sa represents an area of PVA/PVAc microspheres that are not affected by the silane penetration. The areas are found to be 0.2, 0.08, and 0.03 μm2 if the ellipsoid sizes are 320/570, 300/610, and 270/620 nm for silane concentrations of 0, 3.8, and 7.2 μg mL−1, respectively. The silane film also moves PVA/PVAc microspheres in the process of complex film formation, from the low silane concentration areas to the complex film area providing enough silane groups to stabilize the structure. The values for the residual silane honeycomb structure heights (Ha) are 6.5, 7, and 12 nm for silane concentrations of 3.8, 7.2, and 14.3 μg mL−1, respectively. The pH-dependent zeta-potential results suggest a specific role of the silane groups with effects on the glass fiber surface and also on the PVA/PVAc microspheres. The non-silanized glass fiber surface and the silane film have similar zeta potentials ranging from −64 to −12 mV at pH’s of 10.5 and 3, respectively. The zeta potentials for the PVA/PVAc microspheres on the glass fiber surface and within the silane film significantly decrease and range from −25 to −5 mV. The shapes of the pH-dependent zeta potentials are different in the cases of silane groups over a pH range from 7 to 4. A triple-layer model is used to fit the non-silanized glass surface and the silane film. The value of the surface-site density for ΓXglass and ΓXsilane, in which X denotes the AlOSi group, differs by a factor of 10−4, which suggests an effective coupling of the silane film. A soft-layer model is used to fit the silane-PVA/PVAc complex film, which is approximated as four layers. Such a simplification and compensation of the microsphere shape gives an approximation of the relevant widths of the layers as the follows: 1) the layer of the silane groups makes up 10 % of the total length (27 nm), 2) the layer of the first PVA shell contributes 30 % to the total length (81 nm), 3) the layer of the PVAc core contributes 30 % to the total length (81 nm), and finally 4) the layer of the second PVA shell provides 30 % of the total length (81 nm). The coverage simulation resulted in a value of 0.4, which corresponds with the assumption of low-order coverage, and is supported by the AFM scans. Correlating the results of the AFM scans, and the zeta potentials sheds some light on the formation mechanism of the silane-PVA/PVAc complex film.
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