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Atomic Layer Deposition onto Thermoplastic Polymeric Nanofibrous Aerogel Templates for Tailored Surface Properties

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journal contribution
posted on 14.07.2020, 12:38 by Jianwei Lu, Yi Li, Wei Song, Mark D. Losego, Rebhadevi Monikandan, Karl I. Jacob, Ru Xiao
Poly­(vinyl alcohol-co-ethylene) (EVOH) nanofibrous aerogel (NFA) templates were fabricated through vacuum freeze-drying from EVOH nanofibrous suspensions. Aluminum oxide (Al2O3) layers were deposited onto highly porous templates to form organic–inorganic hybrid aerogels by the atomic layer deposition (ALD) technique. Chemical and physical measurements showed that mechanical properties were improved through ALD. In addition, the surface chemistry of ALD modified aerogels showed a fascinating cyclic change based on the number of ALD deposition cycles. A transition from hydrophilicity to hydrophobicity was observed after a few cycles of ALD coating; however, additional deposition cycles changed the wettability characteristics back to hydrophilicity. This hydrophilic–hydrophobic–hydrophilic variation is shown to be governed by a combination of geometrical and chemical surface properties. Furthermore, the deposited Al2O3 could substantially improve aerogels strength and reduce permanent deformation after cyclic compression. The Young’s modulus of aerogels increased from 5.54 to 33.27 kPa, and the maximum stress at 80% strain went up from 31.13 to 176.11 kPa, after 100 cycles of trimethyl-aluminum (TMA)/water ALD. Thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) results confirm that ALD can effectively improve the heat resistance characteristics of polymeric aerogel. The onset temperature and the residual mass increased with increasing numbers of ALD cycles. During pyrolysis, the nanofiber cores were decomposed, and the brittle pure Al2O3 self-supporting nanotube aerogels with the continuous hollow nanotubular network were formed. A coating of continuous thickness Al2O3 layer on individual nanofiber was achieved after 100 ALD cycles. In additional to mechanical strength and physical property changes, the ALD modified aerogel also shows a superhydrophobic and oleophilic surface chemistry, which could potentially be used to remove oils/organic solvents from water. The resultant aerogels exhibit excellent absorption capacity (31–73 g/g) for various liquids, and the material could be reused after distillation or squeezing. A successful scale-up of such materials could provide some insights into the design and development of thermoplastic polymeric NFAs with substantial industrial applications.