Ultrafine high performance polyethylene fibers


Stiff, strong and tough ultrafine polyethylene fibers that rival the best high performance fibers, but with diameters less than one micron, are fabricated for the first time by “gel-electrospinning.” In this process, solution concentration and process temperatures are chosen to induce the formation of gel filaments “in flight,” which are subsequently drawn at high rates as a consequence of the whipping instability. The resulting submicron-diameter fibers exhibited Young’s moduli of 73 ± 13 GPa, yield strengths of 3.5 ± 0.6 GPa, and toughnesses of 1.8 ± 0.3 GPa, on average. Among the smallest fibers examined, one with a diameter of 490 ± 50 nm showed a Young’s modulus of 110 ± 16 GPa, ultimate tensile strength of 6.3 ± 0.9 GPa, and toughness of 2.1 ± 0.3 GPa, a combination of mechanical properties that is unparalleled among polymer fibers to date. The correlation of stiffness, strength and toughness with fiber diameter is attributed to high crystallinity and crystallite orientation, combined with fewer defects and enhanced chain slip associated with small diameter and high specific surface area. Gel-electrospinning improves the prospects for production of such fibers at scale.

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Funding for this work was provided by the U.S. Army through the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC). The authors are grateful to the US Army-funded Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) and the National Science Foundation-funded Center for Materials Science and Engineering (CMSE) for use of facilities and equipment. This work made use of the MRSEC Shared Experimental Facilities at MIT, supported by the National Science Foundation under award number DMR-14-19807.

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Correspondence to Gregory C. Rutledge.

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S1: Results using different solvents. S2: WAXD data. S3: Detailed description of individual fiber mechanical test. S4: Testing for a possible clamp slippage. S5: Validation of mechanical testing using Dyneema SK99. S6: DSC data. S7: Yield strength vs diameter and limiting tensile strength. S8: Results of individual fiber tests and reproducibility. (PDF 2172 kb)

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Park, J.H., Rutledge, G.C. Ultrafine high performance polyethylene fibers. J Mater Sci 53, 3049–3063 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10853-017-1724-z

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  • Chain Slip
  • Crystallite Orientation
  • UHMWPE Fibers
  • Ultra-high Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE)
  • Bulk UHMWPE