Representative volume element to estimate buckling behavior of graphene/polymer nanocomposite
© Parashar and Mertiny; licensee Springer. 2012
Received: 26 June 2012
Accepted: 4 August 2012
Published: 20 September 2012
The aim of the research article is to develop a representative volume element using finite elements to study the buckling stability of graphene/polymer nanocomposites. Research work exploring the full potential of graphene as filler for nanocomposites is limited in part due to the complex processes associated with the mixing of graphene in polymer. To overcome some of these issues, a multiscale modeling technique has been proposed in this numerical work. Graphene was herein modeled in the atomistic scale, whereas the polymer deformation was analyzed as a continuum. Separate representative volume element models were developed for investigating buckling in neat polymer and graphene/polymer nanocomposites. Significant improvements in buckling strength were observed under applied compressive loading when compared with the buckling stability of neat polymer.
KeywordsMultiscale model Nanocomposite Buckling Finite element method
In the recent past, graphene has emerged as a potential candidate for developing nanocomposites with improved properties [1, 2]. The experimental characterization of graphene/polymer nanocomposites is a challenging process, and hence, computational approaches for predicting the behavior of such materials have also extensively been employed. Various multiscale models are available in the literature for predicting the properties of carbon nanotube (CNT)-based nanocomposites [3–5], but very few models have been presented to study graphene nanocomposites. For example, Cho et al.  developed a numerical model in conjunction with Mori-Tanaka approach to study the elastic constants of randomly distributed graphene in polymer. Awasthi and his team  investigated the load transfer mechanism between polyethylene and graphene sheets. Montazeri and Tabar  developed a finite element (FE)-based multiscale model to investigate the elastic constants of graphene-based nanocomposites.
Buckling in isolated graphene sheets was modeled by several researchers [9–11]. However, buckling stability of graphene/polymer nanocomposites was only reported by Rafiee et al. . Using an experimental and analytical approach, up to 50% and 32% improvement in the buckling stability of nanocomposites was reported respectively. In the analytical approach, an Euler buckling formulation was employed, and elastic properties required in the Euler equation were estimated by experimental means. The discrepancies between the two buckling stabilities were attributed to scaling issues.
It is well established that the reinforcement of polymer with graphene increases the elastic modulus of the material which further improves buckling stability. The aim of this study is to propose a numerical model which can estimate the increase in buckling stability with different volume fractions of graphene and can further be extended to complex shapes and structures.
It has been reported that achieving a uniform dispersion of two-dimensional graphene sheets in polymer is more challenging compared to the mixing of one-dimensional CNT. Moreover, the application of nanocomposites is not limited to simple structures, and the comprehension of material behavior in complex structures is restricted when employing experimental and analytical methods. Consequently, research efforts are increasingly focused on numerical approaches. To overcome some of the limitations that exist in experimental and analytical work, a multiscale representative volume element (RVE) is proposed in this paper to investigate buckling phenomena in graphene/polymer nanocomposites under the assumption that graphene is uniformly distributed in the polymer. To the knowledge of the present authors, no numerical model has been reported yet to study the effect of graphene on the buckling strength of nanocomposites. In the proposed technique, graphene was modeled in the atomistic scale, whereas polymer deformation was analyzed as a continuum.
Finite element modeling of RVE
In this paper a finite element technique was employed in conjunction with molecular and continuum mechanics to simulate buckling in graphene/polymer nanocomposites. In the proposed RVE, the polymer, epoxy in this case, was modeled as a continuum phase whereas the deformation in graphene was evaluated using an atomistic description. Nonbonded interactions were considered as the load transfer mechanism or interphase between polymer and graphene. FE modeling was performed in the ANSYS (Version 13) software environment (ANSYS Inc., Canonsburg, PA, USA).
Atomistic model for graphene
where K r (938 kcalmol−1Å−2), K θ (126 kcalmol−1rad−2), and K τ (40 kcalmol−1rad−2) are the bond stretching, bond bending, and bond torsional resistance force constants. E represents the Young's modulus; A, the cross sectional area; I, the moment of inertia; G, the shear modulus; J, the polar moment of inertia of the beam element, respectively. BEAM4 elements were used in the ANSYS software environment to model graphene by connecting nodes, and material properties for those elements were estimated with the help of Equations 2, 3, and 4.
Continuum model for polymer
The volume fraction of graphene in polymer ranges commonly up to 10%. Most of the material volume is therefore occupied by polymer. Simulating the polymer phase on the atomistic scale would require large efforts in dealing with large numbers of degrees of freedom as well as substantial computational cost. Therefore, as a reasonable compromise, the polymer phase was modeled as a continuum, and three-dimensional SOLID45 elements were used for meshing the geometry. Epoxy with a Young's modulus of 3.4 GPa and a Poisson’s ratio of 0.42 was considered as the polymer material in the present work.
Interphase between graphene and polymer
Eigenvalue buckling analysis
A linear analysis for mode one buckling was performed in this work, which is associated with the computation of a bifurcation load and corresponding buckling mode. The analysis in the finite element environment was divided into two sections, i.e., a pre-buckling and a post-buckling analysis .
Results and discussion
The proposed RVE was employed to understand the buckling behavior of graphene in a polymer matrix when graphene was assumed to be uniformly distributed. A second separate RVE structure with equal dimensions was developed using finite element modeling to study the buckling in neat (homogenous) polymer.
The boundary conditions along with dimensions for the proposed RVE model are shown in Figure 3. The thickness of graphene in the atomistic scale and for epoxy as a continuum phase was kept constant at 0.344 nm, whereas the thickness of the interphase was kept at 0.172 nm according to . The graphene volume fraction in the proposed RVE model was varied by changing the size of the graphene sheet, leading to graphene volume fractions ranging from 2% to 6%. Filler volume fractions of reasonable and practical magnitude were thus studied, omitting the agglomeration effects in graphene nanocomposites with high filler content.
In this study a representative volume element method was successfully employed to investigate the buckling phenomenon in graphene/polymer nanocomposites, where graphene was assumed to be uniformly distributed. Graphene was modeled in the atomistic scale and polymer as a continuum. A significantly enhanced buckling strength of graphene reinforced polymers was observed as compared to neat polymer, i.e., buckling strength of graphene/polymer nanocomposite improved by 26% with only 6% filler volume fraction.
The authors would like to acknowledge the financial support by the Alberta Ingenuity Graduate Scholarship in Nanotechnology.
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