Biomacromolecules, Vol.11, No.9, 2471-2477, 2010
Effect of Moisture on Electrospun Nanofiber Composites of Poly(vinyl alcohol) and Cellulose Nanocrystals
The effect of humidity on the morphological and thermomechanical properties of electrospun poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVA) fiber mats reinforced with cellulose nanocrystals (CNs) was investigated. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) images revealed that the incorporation of CNs improved the morphological stability of the composite fibers even in high humidity environments. Thermal and mechanical properties of the electrospun fiber mats were studied by using differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), dynamic mechanical analysis (DMA), and large deformation tensile tests under controlled humidity and temperatures. The balance between the moisture-induced plasticization and the reinforcing effect of rigid CN particles was critical in determining the thermomechanical behaviors of the electrospun fiber mats. Results indicated that the stabilizing effect of the CNs in the PVA matrix might be compromised by water absorption, disrupting the hydrogen bonding within the structure. The amount of this disruption depended on the surrounding humidity and the CN loading. The reduction in tensile strength of neat PVA fiber mats as they were conditioned from low relative humidity (10% RH) to high relative humidity (70% RH) was found to be about 80%, from 1.5 to 0.4 MPa. When the structure was reinforced with CNs, the reduction in strength was limited to 40%, from 2 to 0.8 MPa over the same range in relative humidity. More importantly, the CN-loaded PVA fiber mats showed a reversible recovery in mechanical strength after cycling the relative humidity. Finally, humidity treatments of the composite PVA fiber mats induced significant enhancement of their strength as a result of the adhesion between the continuous matrix and the CNs.