Characterisation of multi wall carbon nanotube–polymer composites for strain sensing applications

Njuguna, Michael Kamau (2012) Characterisation of multi wall carbon nanotube–polymer composites for strain sensing applications. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have excellent electrical, mechanical and electromechanical properties. When CNTs are incorporated into polymers, electrically conductive composites with high electrical conductivity at very low CNT content (often below 1% wt CNT) result. Due to the change in electrical properties under mechanical load, carbon nanotube/polymer composites have attracted significant research interest especially due to their potential for application in in-situ monitoring of stress distribution and active control of strain sensing in composite structures or as strain sensors. To sucessfully develop novel devices for such applications, some of the major challenges that need to be overcome include; in-depth understanding of structure-electrical conductivity relationships, response of the composites under changing environmental conditions and piezoresistivity of different types of carbon nanotube/polymer sensing devices.

In this thesis, direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC) conductivity of CNT-epoxy composites was investigated. Details of microstructure obtained by scanning electron microscopy were used to link observed electrical properties with structure using equivalent circuit modeling. The role of polymer coatings on macro and micro level electrical conductivity was investigated using atomic force microscopy.

Thermal analysis and Raman spectroscopy were used to evaluate the heat flow and deformation of carbon nanotubes embedded in the epoxy, respectively, and related to temperature induced resistivity changes. A comparative assessment of piezoresistivity was conducted using randomly mixed carbon nanotube/epoxy composites, and new concept epoxy- and polyurethane-coated carbon nanotube films.

The results indicate that equivalent circuit modelling is a reliable technique for estimating values of the resistance and capacitive components in linear, low aspect ratio-epoxy composites. Using this approach, the dominant role of tunneling resistance in determining the electrical conductivity was confirmed, a result further verified using conductive-atomic force microscopy analysis. Randomly mixed CNT-epoxy composites were found to be highly sensitive to mechanical strain and temperature variation compared to polymer-coated CNT films. In the vicinity of the glass transition temperature, the CNT-epoxy composites exhibited pronounced resistivity peaks.

Thermal and Raman spectroscopy analyses indicated that this phenomenon can be attributed to physical aging of the epoxy matrix phase and structural rearrangement of the conductive network induced by matrix expansion. The resistivity of polymercoated CNT composites was mainly dominated by the intrinsic resistivity of CNTs and the CNT junctions, and their linear, weakly temperature sensitive response can be described by a modified Luttinger liquid model. Piezoresistivity of the polymer coated sensors was dominated by break up of the conducting carbon nanotube network and the consequent degradation of nanotube-nanotube contacts while that of the randomly mixed CNT-epoxy composites was determined by tunnelling resistance between neighbouring CNTs.

This thesis has demonstrated that it is possible to use microstructure information to develop equivalent circuit models that are capable of representing the electrical conductivity of CNT/epoxy composites accurately. New designs of carbon nanotube based sensing devices, utilising carbon nanotube films as the key functional element, can be used to overcome the high temperature sensitivity of randomly mixed CNT/polymer composites without compromising on desired high strain sensitivity. This concept can be extended to develop large area intelligent CNT based coatings and targeted weak-point specific strain sensors for use in structural health monitoring.

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ID Code: 54671
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Yan, Cheng
Keywords: epoxy, electrical properties, nanocomposites, strain sensing, piezoresistivity, carbon, nanotubes, tunneling, temperature effect, polymer composites, physical aging,, equivalent circuit modeling
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 07 Nov 2012 23:08
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015 11:27

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