Mechanism of Exfoliation and Prediction of Materials Properties of Clay- Polymer Nanocomposites from Multiscale Modeling

JL Suter and D Groen and PV Coveney, NANO LETTERS, 15, 8108-8113 (2015).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b03547

We describe the mechanism that leads to full exfoliation and dispersion of organophilic clays when mixed with molten hydrophilic polymers. This process is of fundamental importance for the production of clay polymer nanocomposites with enhanced materials properties. The chemically specific nature of our multiscale approach allows us to probe how chemistry, in combination with processing conditions, produces such materials properties at the mesoscale and beyond. In general agreement with experimental observations, we find that a higher grafting density of charged quaternary ammonium surfactant ions promotes exfoliation, by a mechanism whereby the clay sheets slide transversally over one another. We can determine the elastic properties of these nanocomposites; exfoliated and partially exfoliated morphologies lead to substantial enhancement of the Young's modulus, as found experimentally.

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