Poly (vinyl alcohol) (PVA) and cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) random composite mats were prepared using the electrospinning method. PVA/CNC mats were reinforced with weight concentrations of 0, 20 and 50% CNC (w/w) relative to PVA. Scanning electron microscopy was used to measure the fiber diameter, which ranged from 377 to 416 nm. Thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) confirmed the presence of CNC fibers in the mat fibers which were not visible by scanning electron microscope (SEM). Mechanical testing was conducted using ASTM D 638 on each sample group at 10 mm min-1. Neat PVA and PVA/CNC mats were heat treated at 170 °C for 2h hours, and the morphological structure was maintained with some fiber diameter reduction. Mechanical property results after heat treatment showed a decrease in tensile strength, an increase in tensile stiffness and a decrease in strain to yield (%). This effect was attributable to enhanced diffusion bonding of the mat fiber intersections. The CNC fibers also increased mat stiffness, and reduced strain to yield in non-treated mats. The use of CNCs show potential for compounding into bulk polymer composites as a reinforcement filler, and also show promise for chemical crosslinking attributable to the -OH groups on both the PVA, in addition to esterification of the vinyl group, and CNC.
Keywords: cellulose nanocrystals; electrospinning; poly (vinyl alcohol); polymer nanocomposites; rheology; scanning electron microscopy; tensile properties; thermogravimetric analysis.