A continuous impingement mixing process for effective dispersion of nanoparticles in polymers



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Texas A&M University


Mixing refers to any process that increases the uniformity of composition and is an integral part of polymer processing. The effective mixing of nanoparticles into polymers continues to be one of the leading problems that limit large scale production of polymer nanocomposites. Impingement mixing is a novel, relatively simple, continuous flow mixing process wherein mixing is accomplished by immersing a high velocity jet in a slower co-flowing stream. The resulting recirculating flow produces an energy cascade that provides a wide range of length scales for efficient mixing. An impingement mixing process was developed and studied through experiments and simulations. Numerical simulations were conducted using FLUENT to understand better the mechanism of operation of the mixer. The formation of a recirculation zone was found to affect the dispersion of nanoparticles. Results of the simulations were compared with experimental data obtained under similar conditions. While this process may be used for any polymernanoparticle combination, the primary focus of this study was the dispersion of Single Walled Carbon Nanotubes (SWNTs) in an epoxy matrix. The dispersion of SWNTs was evaluated by analyzing SEM images of the composites. The image analysis technique used the concept of Shannon Entropy to obtain an index of dispersion that was representative of the degree of mixing. This method of obtaining a dispersion index can be applied to any image analysis technique in which the two components that make up the mixture can be clearly distinguished. The mixing process was also used to disperse SWNTs into a limited number of other polymers. The mixing process is an "enabling" process that may be employed for virtually any polymer-nanoparticle combination. This mixing process was shown to be an effective and efficient means of quickly dispersing nanoparticles in polymers.