EDITOR: | August 22nd, 2016 | 14 Comments

Understanding Graphene: Part 5 – Polymer nanocomposites

melt blending technique for producing graphene polymer nano composites
| August 22, 2016 | 14 Comments

Graphene polymer nanocomposites. It sounds a bit of a mouthful doesn’t it? This term basically means adding lots of little pieces of graphene to various plastics to create better materials. Interested? Then read on…

Composites are nothing new; think of glass fibre reinforced plastics (GRP) used to make everything from boats, pipes and containers. Carbon fibre technology is used for formula one cars and aerospace applications. Over half of the Airbus A350 passenger jet is made from carbon fibre composites. These materials are used because they are better than traditional alternatives and so can make lighter structures for the same or improved strength. The commercial implications are obvious; there is a big market out there for composite products.

Nanocomposites are similar in principle except that the materials used have very small dimensions, of less than 100 nanometers. This brings us to graphene. Having excellent thermal and electrical conductivity as well as high tensile strength, it is a natural choice as an additive to various polymers (plastics). It is also available as nanoscale powders and suspension in various liquids.

At InvestorIntel we have produced a report that analyses the global market for graphene production. We found that while no one can currently produce sheet graphene at scale, there are many organisations producing nanoscale graphene as powders or suspensions of nanoplatelets. At least four producers are specifically making graphene additives for polymer composites at present.

At this point, dear InvestorIntel reader, you’ll be asking ‘Why not more?’ Setting patent barriers aside, part of the reason is that when one works at the nanoscale, making sure the additives and polymer matrix are intimately mixed is harder to achieve than would seem a first sight.

Part of the problem is that graphene is very hydrophobic (it repels water), many polymers are hydrophilic (water loving) such as polyvinyl alcohol (PVA). Think about mixing oil and water and you’ll get the idea that graphene and hydrophilic polymers do not mix well. One way round this is to modify the graphene to change its physical properties by reacting it with oxygen to create graphene oxide. This material mixes better with hydrophilic polymers but at the cost of a loss of its electrical conductivity because graphene oxide does not conduct electricity anywhere near as well as graphene.

There are lots of hydrophobic polymers that graphene will mix with and the addition of graphene improves the electrical and thermal conductivity as well as strength and gas barrier properties.

There are many methods such as electro deposition, electro spinning and atom transfer radical polymerization for making modified graphene nanocomposites and the dedicated reader can find more at this link. We will look at the two main methods for making polymer nanocomposites with graphene; solution casting and melt blending.

The solution cast technique is one way to form graphene nanocomposite films. The process starts with finding a common solvent that is compatible with both graphene and the chosen polymer. For example one commonly used solvent is chloroform.

Solution casting technique for making graphene polymer nano composites

The graphene nanoplatelets are dispersed in the solvent with the polymer using ultrasound mixing. This intimately mixes the graphene, solvent and polymer. The resulting liquid is then spread on a suitable surface and the solvent evaporated off leaving the graphene polymer composite film that can be washed and dried to remove any remaining solvent.

Melt blending involves adding the polymer and graphene powder to a heated screw mixer. The heat causes the polymer to form a liquid melt into which the graphene is dispersed with mixing. The melt is extruded and cooled to leave a nanocomposite of polymer and graphene.

melt blending technique for producing graphene polymer nano composites

So we now know that producing graphene nanocomposite materials is possible. The next question is are they any good? A team in Malaysia has reviewed graphene nanocomposite materials made by various methods.

They have found that graphene nanoplatelets do indeed improve the physical properties of the polymers they are mixed with. The improvements appear to be best at an addition of 1-5% by weight of graphene. For example a polymer called Polythyleneoxide (PEO) can have its tensile strength improved by as much as 189% by the solution casting approach and 104% by melt blending. The thermal stability and electrical conductivity of polymers has also been improved.

I was initially sceptical of claims for graphene-enhanced products such as tennis racquetsbicycle wheels and parts for racing cars. I’m becoming less sceptical with time. These niche applications will take time to cascade to everyday products, however the commercialization of graphene seems well underway.

Publisher’s Note: To buy the Global Graphene Report, please email mailto:Fred@Wescow.com or +1 416 707 7276.


Adrian Nixon is a Senior Editor at InvestorIntel. He began his career as a scientist and is a Chartered Chemist and Member of the Royal ... <Read more about Adrian Nixon>

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  • hackenzac

    It seems like 3D printers would be a good tool for applying a material concept like this.

    August 22, 2016 - 4:33 PM

  • Adrian Nixon

    Hi Hackenzac, Yes you are right that 3D printers would be a good tool for applying graphene enhanced polymers. The melt technique is used to make 3d printing filaments already. I know that teams have been trying to make 3D printed forms from graphene. The problem they are tackling is how to make the layers stick together robustly enough.

    August 23, 2016 - 5:49 AM

  • Revathi

    Hi sir.
    We have already made graphene and cnt based nano polymer.we have worked on polar and non polar polymers.
    We are the only company in india manufacturing graphene and cnt and commercialising the nano Base polymer .
    We can visit us at http://www.unitednanotech.come.

    Thank you

    August 23, 2016 - 1:14 PM

  • ‘Joe Citizen’

    Thank you InvestorIntel for this series of articles. These articles keep me in the science loop and I don’t know how I would find out otherwise.

    August 23, 2016 - 3:43 PM

  • Joe Eldridge

    Great article, Adrian. Regarding the efforts in 3D Printing you might be interested to learn there has been a leap forward in this area with a material my company Fullerex has been working on in partnership with Haydale and Filament Print UK.

    The graphene PLA composite filament developed as a result of this partnership is able to make very robust parts in the z-direction. Data is still being aggregated on the tests done with this new material, but everything coming back is pointing to significant reduction of z-axis weakening, possibly eliminating it entirely.

    There are sample reels available for anyone who wants to test it, and the launch will be at the TCT show next month

    August 24, 2016 - 10:48 AM

  • Adrian Nixon

    Thanks Joe, glad you liked the article. I try to take great care to get the facts right. I assume by PLA you mean Poly Lactic Acid. I’m very interested in the progress you are making with z direction improvements, well done. I’m interested in finding out more, I’ll contact make contact with you. Adrian

    August 24, 2016 - 1:16 PM

  • Adrian Nixon

    Thanks Joe Citizen, Glad you find these column entries useful, that’s why I create them.

    August 24, 2016 - 1:18 PM

  • Adrian Nixon

    Dear Revathi, Thank you for taking time to write to us. We are well aware of your company and products and have contacted your people already to make sure that the data we have in our Global Graphene Report is accurate.
    If you would like to contact me further just let me know. Adrian

    August 24, 2016 - 1:33 PM

  • Colleen Costello

    Hi Adrian,

    Great post! I linked to it from our social media channels.

    Thank you,

    Colleen Costello
    Technical Marketing Engineer
    Angstron Materials, Inc.

    August 24, 2016 - 2:05 PM

  • Adrian Nixon

    Hi Colleen, Thanks for the feedback, also thank your people for a fast response in helping us update your company details and products in our Global Graphene Report.

    August 24, 2016 - 2:15 PM

  • Colleen Costello

    Hi Adrian,

    Sure thing. I will pass the good word on.

    Based on your background info and publications, you seem very knowledgeable about graphene. I like how you take the complex and make the topic accessible to your reader.

    I write a blog about graphene and would be interested in knowing if you would like to contribute to a future post? I look forward to hearing from you. In the meantime, here’s the link to my blog so you can learn about it:

    Thank you very much,

    August 24, 2016 - 9:45 PM

  • Adrian Nixon

    That’s very kind of you Colleen, thank you for the offer of contributing to your excellent blog however I’m firmly loyal to InvestorIntel so I shall have to politely decline.

    August 25, 2016 - 5:00 AM

  • Sharron

    I very much agree with Colleen on your writing, I learn more with each article, thank you.

    August 25, 2016 - 9:27 AM

  • Colleen Costello

    Hello Adrian,

    Thank you for your kind words about my blog. I look forward to staying in touch and reading more of your posts in the future.


    August 25, 2016 - 9:34 AM

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