Multi-scale numerical simulations of thermal expansion properties of CNT-reinforced nanocomposites
© Alamusi et al.; licensee Springer. 2013
Received: 6 November 2012
Accepted: 22 December 2012
Published: 7 January 2013
In this work, the thermal expansion properties of carbon nanotube (CNT)-reinforced nanocomposites with CNT content ranging from 1 to 15 wt% were evaluated using a multi-scale numerical approach, in which the effects of two parameters, i.e., temperature and CNT content, were investigated extensively. For all CNT contents, the obtained results clearly revealed that within a wide low-temperature range (30°C ~ 62°C), thermal contraction is observed, while thermal expansion occurs in a high-temperature range (62°C ~ 120°C). It was found that at any specified CNT content, the thermal expansion properties vary with temperature - as temperature increases, the thermal expansion rate increases linearly. However, at a specified temperature, the absolute value of the thermal expansion rate decreases nonlinearly as the CNT content increases. Moreover, the results provided by the present multi-scale numerical model were in good agreement with those obtained from the corresponding theoretical analyses and experimental measurements in this work, which indicates that this multi-scale numerical approach provides a powerful tool to evaluate the thermal expansion properties of any type of CNT/polymer nanocomposites and therefore promotes the understanding on the thermal behaviors of CNT/polymer nanocomposites for their applications in temperature sensors, nanoelectronics devices, etc.
KeywordsPolymer-matrix composites (PMC) Thermal properties Numerical analysis Carbon nanotube (CNT)
As technology and modern industry has developed, reinforced composite materials, such as particle- or short-fiber-reinforced composites and long-fiber-reinforced or sandwich laminates, have been widely applied in the aerospace, construction, transportation, machinery, chemical, and other industries. In recent years, as a representative of new engineering materials, carbon nanotube (CNT) at nanoscale has shown superior mechanical, electrical, and thermal properties, as well as low density and high aspect ratio, which make it an ideal choice for composite reinforcement. CNT-reinforced nanocomposite is a multi-phase material, and its external macro-physical properties strongly depend on the properties of its constituents and complex internal microstructure. Experimental evaluation requires large amounts of material samples and a large testing work load, giving simulation of the physical properties of nanocomposites important engineering significance.
There has been extensive research on the mechanical, thermal, and electrical properties of CNT-reinforced nanocomposites. For instance, the thermal properties [1–3] and electrical properties of CNT-reinforced nanocomposites [4, 5] have been explored experimentally in some previous studies. Moreover, due to the complexity and variations of the CNT-reinforced composite microstructure, theoretical analyses and numerical simulation methods are common strategies to estimate composite physical properties. For instance, diffusion and thermal expansion coefficients of CNT-reinforced nanocomposites have been studied through micromechanics models without sufficient atomic scale information  or molecular dynamics (MD) models with very high computational cost and complexity .
In recent years, to deal with the remarkable scale difference in CNT-reinforced nanocomposites, multi-scale modeling has been widely used for predicting the mechanical properties , electrical properties , and thermal conductivity  of the CNT-reinforced nanocomposites. However, to the best knowledge of the present authors, there has been no report on the multi-scale modeling of thermal expansion properties of the CNT-reinforced nanocomposites to date. In this work, the thermal expansion properties of the CNT-reinforced nanocomposites, i.e., CNT/epoxy, were evaluated using a sequential multi-scale numerical model. The present study focused on the effects of two key parameters, i.e., temperature and CNT content, on the thermal expansion properties. Moreover, it was found that the results of the present multi-scale numerical model agree very well with those based on theoretical predictions and experimental measurements carried out in this work.
The CNT content of CNT/epoxy nanocomposites ranged from 1 to 15 wt%.
The length and diameters of the outmost and innermost walls of CNT were set as 5 μm, 50 nm, and 5.4 nm, respectively, which are in accordance with the experimental measurement using a transmission electron microscope [9, 15]. The properties of MWCNT used in the present experiments are shown in Table 1.
Properties of MWCNT
Fiber diameter (nm)
Aspect ratio (−)
We only considered the axial thermal expansion/contraction of MWCNT, and the radial thermal expansion/contraction was neglected since they are very small as identified in . Therefore, CNT thermal expansion properties were orthotropic. Other properties of CNT were assumed to be isotropic, as well as those of epoxy. The detailed material properties in simulations are listed in Table 2.
For the uni-directional model, simulations were conducted using a quarter of the cross section of a cylinder representative volume element (RVE) containing a CNT, i.e., an axisymmetrical model (see Figure 1). Under thermal loading, some forces along the radial direction were imposed on the nodes of the outmost lateral surface of the RVE and adjusted through an iterative procedure so that all points on the outmost lateral surface moved at the same distance in the radial direction to simulate the periodic conditions . The length of the polymer was two times longer than that of the CNT in Figure 1, implying that the short CNTs are distributed evenly in both longitudinal and lateral directions in a matrix so that the RVE is the same for any CNT .
For the multi-directional model, there were randomly distributed 100 CNTs per model (see Figure 2). This model was built up under plane-strain conditions. The boundary conditions were applied at the two external edges which is similar to those for the uni-directional model above. In order to reflect the 3D characteristics of real nanocomposites, the volume fraction should be converted to the half of the real one [12, 13]. Note that the number of the CNTs in this model, i.e., 100, was determined by some trial computations, such as testing of models containing 10, 25, and 50 CNTs. It was found that 100 is the minimum number, which can yield isotropic, convergent, and stable results. This number is just the same with that of holes for modeling the effective mechanical properties of a porous plate .
Results and discussion
To verify the effectiveness of the above multi-scale numerical simulations, the following theoretical prediction and experimental measurements were carried out.
The following assumptions are made to derive conventional micromechanics models for the coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE). Note that the CTE, which is generally understood as a constant and temperature-independent, is different from the thermal expansion rate used here. Following the terminology of conventional micromechanics models, we still use CTE in this section. The two-phase composite consisting of matrix and short fiber is of perfect interfaces at phase boundaries. Therefore, it is impossible for the two components, i.e., the matrix and short fiber, to separate at their interfaces when the composite is loaded or heated. Additionally, only macro-composites are considered, namely the scale of the reinforcement is large compared to that of the atom size or grain size so that composite properties can be modeled by continuum methods. This assumption may be reasonable here since the present MWCNT is comparatively large in diameter. Finally, the composite properties are an appropriate average of those of the components.
In the above equations, the nomenclatures for the parameters are as follows:
V, volume fraction
E, Young's modulus
ν, Poisson's ratio
and the subscripts are as follows:
m, the matrix
f, the reinforcement phase (MWCNT here)
Note that Poisson's ratio of the nanocomposites, vc in Equation 3, was directly obtained from the rule of mixture and the data in Table 2. For 1 ~ 5 wt% addition of CNTs, vc ranges from 0.338 (1 wt%) to 0.333 (5 wt%).
The thermal expansion properties of the MWCNT/epoxy nanocomposites were measured using a TMA equipment (TMA-50, Shimadzu Co., Kyoto, Japan). The TMA measurement methodology is described as follows: a rectangular sample (3 cm wide, 3 cm long) was cut from the nanocomposites at a point 3 cm from the parallel portion of the tensile test specimen (according to JIS K 7197 ). Specimens were heated from 30°C to 120°C at a scanning rate of 5°C/min in air for continuous measurements. The thermal expansion properties of pure epoxy were similarly measured for the same specimen size and test conditions. Note that the highest test temperature, i.e., 120°C, is close to the glass transition point of bisphenol-F epoxy resin, which usually ranges from 120°C to 130°C, depending on fabrication conditions. In our tests, it was found that even at 120°C, the obtained thermal expansion rates were still normal and a molten or rubber-like state in epoxy was not identified.
In this work, the thermal expansion properties of CNT/epoxy nanocomposites with CNT content ranging from 1 to 15 wt% were investigated using a multi-scale numerical technique in which the effects of two parameters, temperature and CNT content, were investigated extensively. For all CNT contents, the obtained results clearly revealed that within a wide low-temperature range (30°C ~ 62°C), the nanocomposites undergo thermal contraction, and thermal expansion appears in a high-temperature range (62°C ~ 120°C). It was found that at any CNT content, the thermal expansion properties vary with the temperature. As temperature increases, the thermal expansion rate increases linearly. However, at a specified temperature, the absolute value of the thermal expansion rate decreases nonlinearly as the CNT content increases. Moreover, the results provided by the present multi-scale numerical model are verified with those obtained from a micromechanics-based theoretical model and from experimental measurement. Therefore, this multi-scale numerical approach is effective to evaluate the thermal expansion properties of any type of CNT/polymer nanocomposites.
The authors are grateful to be partly supported by the Grand-in-Aid for Scientific Research (no. 22360044) from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) of Japan.
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