Interfaces and stress transfer between cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) dictate the mechanical properties of hierarchical cellulose materials such as neat films and nanocomposites. An interesting question that remains is how the behavior of these interfaces changes due to environmental stimuli, most notably moisture. We present analyses on the traction-separation behavior between Iβ CNC elementary fibrils, providing insight into how the presence of a single atomic layer of water at these interfaces can drastically change the mechanical behavior. We find that molecular water at the interface between hydrophilic CNC surfaces has a negligible effect on the tensile separation adhesion energy. However, when water cannot hydrogen bond easily to the surface (i.e., hydrophobic surface), it tends to maintain hydrogen bonds with other water molecules across the interface and form a capillary bridge that serves to increase the energy required to separate the crystals. Under shear loading, water lowers the energy barriers to sliding by reducing the atomic friction and consequently the interlayer shear modulus between crystals. Our simulations indicate that these nanoscale interfaces and physical phenomena such as interfacial adhesion, interlayer shear properties, and stick-slip friction behavior can be drastically altered by the presence of water.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)