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Carbon nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are known to have exceptional mechanical, thermal and electrical properties. Research into CNT/polymer nanocomposites endeavours to exploit these advantageous properties, the goal being lightweight engineering materials to rival steel. Such materials are highly relevant and much sought after by the aerospace and motorsport industries.

The key to the expected improved properties of nanocomposites is the nanoparticle size, and specifically the high surface-to-volume ratio. This property enhances polymer/particle bonding, differentiating polymer nanocomposites from the traditionally filled plastics. Unfortunately, the high surface area/volume ratio of nanoparticles also results in a tendency to form agglomerates. Dispersion of these agglomerates is a major requirement and one that is not easily achieved. Solvents can be used to aid dispersion in thermosetting resins, but reagglomeration of the nanoparticles during the process can cause complications.

It is proposed that nanoparticle dispersion in a thermoplastic polymer and subsequent thermoplastic/thermoset blending is investigated as a route to producing thermoset polymer nanocomposites (thermoset/thermoplastic/nanoparticle 3-component blend). High shear-rate mixing can be employed to disperse the particles in the thermoplastic matrix and, by choosing a thermoplastic that dissolves within the thermosetting resin, could allow transfer of the dispersed nanoparticles into the desired matrix. Such a route gives several opportunities for nanoparticle dispersion manipulation:
* Phase-separation is known to occur in some thermoplastic/thermoset blends. The nanoparticles are expected to prefer either the thermoplastic or the thermoset domains and phase-separation variations could give rise to nanoparticle dispersion control.
* Specific placement of nanoparticles – using the thermoplastic/nanoparticle blend in a filament or woven material form would allow direct placement into moulded thermoset resin parts, imparting orientation or other properties in selected defined areas.
The intention is to establish a new dispersion route for thermoset polymer nanocomposites. Subsequent evaluation of nanoparticle dispersion and content effects on the nanocomposite mechanical and electrical properties will illustrate the importance of any nanoparticle dispersion control associated with this novel dispersion route.

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