Electrospun poly(acrylonitrile) (PAN) nanofibers are typical precursors of carbon nanofibers. During stabilization and carbonization, however, the morphology of pristine PAN nanofibers is not retained if the as-spun nanofiber mats are treated without an external mechanical force, since internal stress tends to relax, causing the whole mats to shrink significantly, while the individual fibers thicken and curl. Stretching the nanofiber mats during thermal treatment, in contrast, can result in fractures due to inhomogeneous stress. Previous studies have shown that stabilization and carbonization of PAN nanofibers electrospun on an aluminum substrate are efficient methods to retain the fiber mat dimensions without macroscopic cracks during heat treatment. In this work, we studied different procedures of mechanical fixation via metallic substrates during thermal treatment. The influence of the metallic substrate material as well as different methods of double-sided covering of the fibers, i.e., sandwiching, were investigated. The results revealed that sandwich configurations with double-sided metallic supports not only facilitate optimal preservation of the original fiber morphology but also significantly accelerate the carbonization process. It was found that unlike regularly carbonized nanofibers, the metal supports allow complete deoxygenation at low treatment temperature and that the obtained carbon nanofibers exhibit increased crystallinity.
Keywords: carbonization; electrospinning; fiber morphology; metallic substrates; shrinkage; stabilization.