Intervention-Free Graphitization of Carbon Microspheres from a Non-Graphitizing Polymer at Low Temperature: Nanopores as Dynamic Nanoreactors

Small. 2024 Jan 22:e2308082. doi: 10.1002/smll.202308082. Online ahead of print.


Graphitizability of organic precursors is the topic of numerous investigations due to the wide applications of graphitic materials in the industry and emerging technologies of supercapacitors, batteries, etc. Most polymers, such as polydivinyl benzene (PDVB) are classified as non-graphitizings that do not convert to Graphite even after heating to 3000℃. Here, for the first time, the development of graphitic structure in the hierarchal porous sulfonated-PDVB microspheres without employing specific equipment or additives like metal catalysts, organic ingredients, or graphite particles, at 1100°C is reported. The abnormal additive-free graphitic structure formation is confirmed by Raman spectroscopy (ID /IG = 0.87), high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM), and selected area diffraction patterns (SAED), as well as x-ray diffraction patterns (XRD), while preservation of aromatic compounds from the carbonization is detected by Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) analysis. Polymer evolution from room temperature to 1100°C is also studied by FTIR, Raman spectroscopy, and XRD techniques. Based on the obtained results, it is suggested that the hierarchal and complicated ink-bottle pore network with a high surface area besides super micropores in the sulfonated-PDVB microspheres has served as nano-sized reaction media. These pores, hereafter referred as "dynamic nanoreactors", are expected to have confined the in-situ produced thermal decomposition products containing broken bond benzene rings, while changing dimensionally and structurally during the designed carbonization regime. This confinement has led to the benzene rings fusion at 250°C, a remarkable extension of them at 450°C, their growth to graphene sheets at 900°C and finally, the stacking of curved graphene layers at 1100°C. The results of this research put stress on the capability of nanopores as nanoreactors to facilitate reactions of decomposition products at low temperatures and ambient pressures to form stacked layers of graphene; A transformation that normally requires catalysts and very high pressures for only specific polyaromatic hydrocarbons.

Keywords: carbon microsphere; graphitization; hierarchal porous; nanoconfinement; nanoreactor; non-graphitizing.