Colloidal Gelation in Liquid Metals Enables Functional Nanocomposites of 2D Metal Carbides (MXenes) and Lightweight Metals

ACS Nano. 2019 Nov 26;13(11):12415-12424. doi: 10.1021/acsnano.9b06207. Epub 2019 Oct 14.


Nanomaterials dispersed in different media, such as liquids or polymers, generate a variety of functional composites with synergistic properties. In this work, we discuss liquid metals as the nanomaterials' dispersion media. For example, 2D transition-metal carbides and nitrides (MXenes) can be efficiently dispersed in liquid Ga and lightweight alloys of Al, Mg, and Li. We show that the Lifshitz theory predicts strong van der Waals attraction between nanoscale objects interacting through liquid metals. However, a uniform distribution of MXenes in liquid metals can be achieved through colloidal gelation, where particles form self-supporting networks stable against macroscopic phase segregation. This network acts as a reinforcement boosting mechanical properties of the resulting metal-matrix composite. By choosing Mg-Li alloy as an example of ultralightweight metal matrix and Ti3C2Tx MXene as a nanoscale reinforcement, we apply a liquid metal gelation technique to fabricate functional nanocomposites with an up to 57% increase in the specific yield strength without compromising the matrix alloy's plasticity. MXenes largely retain their phase and 2D morphology after processing in liquid Mg-Li alloy at 700 °C. The 2D morphology enables formation of a strong semicoherent interface between MXene and metal matrix, manifested by biaxial strain of the MXene lattice inside the metal matrix. This work expands applications for MXenes and shows the potential for developing MXene-reinforced metal matrix composites for structural alloys and other emerging applications with metal-MXene interfaces, such as batteries and supercapacitors.

Keywords: MXenes; colloidal gel; lightweight alloys; liquid metals; van der Waals attraction.