Role of matrix crystallinity in carbon nanotube dispersion and electrical conductivity of iPP-based nanocomposites



A homopolymer iPP and a series of propylene-ethylene random copolymers with a content of ethylene from 7 to 21 mol % were used as matrices to prepare single-walled carbon nanotube (SWCNT) nanocomposites in a range of SWCNT concentration from 0.15 to 1 wt %. The solution blending and melt- compression molding procedures were kept identical for all nanocomposites. The poly(propylenes) have crystallinities ranging from 70 to 10%, and serve to test the role of SWCNTs acting as nucleants to preserve in the nanocomposites the uniform dispersion of SWCNTs after sonication. The major role of polymer crystallinity is to mediate toward a more open and more connected SWCNT network structure. Fast nucleation and growth of high crystalline matrices on multiple sites along the surface of the nanotubes prevents SWCNT clustering, and entraps the SWCNT network between the semicrystalline structure reducing the driving force of nanotubes to curl and twist. Depletion of crystallites in the less crystalline matrices (<35% crystallinity) leads to curled and poorly connected nanotubes. A consequence of the gradual loss of SWCNT connectivity is a decreased electrical conductivity; however, the change with crystallinity is not linear. Conductivity decreases sharply with decreasing crystallinity for SWCNT contents near the percolation region, while for contents approaching the plateau region the electrical conductivity is less sensitive to matrix crystallinity. The percolation threshold decreases rapidly for polymers with <∼30% crystallinity and slowly levels off at crystallinities >∼40%. At SWCNT concentrations of 0.15 wt %, SEM images of nanocomposites with the highest crystallinity matrix indicate debundled and interconnected nanotubes, whereas more disconnected and curled SWCNTs remain in the lowest crystallinity nanocomposites. Electrical conductivity in the former is relatively high, whereas the latter are insulators. Also discussed is the nucleating effect of nanotubes and restrictions of the filler to polymer chain diffusion in the crystallization of the polymers. SEM images and Raman spectra in the radial breathing modes region (100–400 cm−1) are complementary tools to extract the quality and details of the SWCNT dispersion in the nanocomposites. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Polym Sci Part B: Polym Phys 48: 2084–2096, 2010