Cellular structures of carbon nanotubes in a polymer matrix improve properties relative to composites with dispersed nanotubes

Minfang Mu, Amanda M. Walker, John M. Torkelson, Karen I. Winey*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


A new processing method has been developed to combine a polymer and single wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) to form electrically conductive composites with desirable rheological and mechanical properties. The process involves coating polystyrene (PS) pellets with SWCNTs and then hot pressing to make a contiguous, cellular SWCNT structure. By this method, the electrical percolation threshold decreases and the electrical conductivity increases significantly as compared to composites with well-dispersed SWCNTs. For example, a SWCNT/PS composite with 0.5 wt% nanotubes made by this coated particle process (CPP) has an electrical conductivity of ∼3 × 10-4 S/cm, while a well-dispersed composite made by a coagulation method with the same SWCNT amount has an electrical conductivity of only ∼10-8 S/cm. The rheological properties of the composite with a macroscopic cellular SWCNT structure are comparable to PS, while the well-dispersed composite exhibits a solid-like behavior, indicating that the composites made by this new CPP are more processable. In addition, the mechanical properties of the CPP-made composite decrease only slightly, as compared with PS. Relative to the common approach of seeking better dispersion, this new fabrication method provides an important alternative means to higher electrical conductivity in SWCNT/polymer composites. Our straightforward particle coating and pressing method avoids organic solvents and is suitable for large-scale, inexpensive processing using a wide variety of polymers and nanoparticles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1332-1337
Number of pages6
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 3 2008


  • Polymer nanocomposite
  • Polystyrene
  • Single wall carbon nanotube

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Organic Chemistry
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Materials Chemistry


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