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Highly Transparent and Toughened Poly(methyl methacrylate) Nanocomposite Films Containing Networks of Cellulose Nanofibrils

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journal contribution
posted on 18.11.2015, 00:00 by Hong Dong, Yelena R. Sliozberg, James F. Snyder, Joshua Steele, Tanya L. Chantawansri, Joshua A. Orlicki, Scott D. Walck, Richard S. Reiner, Alan W. Rudie
Cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs) are a class of cellulosic nanomaterials with high aspect ratios that can be extracted from various natural sources. Their highly crystalline structures provide the nanofibrils with excellent mechanical and thermal properties. The main challenges of CNFs in nanocomposite applications are associated with their high hydrophilicity, which makes CNFs incompatible with hydrophobic polymers. In this study, highly transparent and toughened poly­(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) nanocomposite films were prepared using various percentages of CNFs covered with surface carboxylic acid groups (CNF-COOH). The surface groups make the CNFs interfacial interaction with PMMA favorable, which facilitate the homogeneous dispersion of the hydrophilic nanofibrils in the hydrophobic polymer and the formation of a percolated network of nanofibrils. The controlled dispersion results in high transparency of the nanocomposites. Mechanical analysis of the resulting films demonstrated that a low percentage loading of CNF-COOH worked as effective reinforcing agents, yielding more ductile and therefore tougher films than the neat PMMA film. Toughening mechanisms were investigated through coarse-grained simulations, where the results demonstrated that a favorable polymer-nanofibril interface together with percolation of the nanofibrils, both facilitated through hydrogen bonding interactions, contributed to the toughness improvement in these nanocomposites.