Processing and properties of graphene reinforced glass/ceramic composites.
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This research provides a comprehensive investigation in understanding the effect of the addition of graphene nano-platelets (GNP) on the mechanical, tribological and biological properties of glass/ceramic composites. We investigated two kinds of materials namely amorphous matrices like glasses (silica, bioglass) and polycrystalline matrices like ceramics (alumina). The idea was to understand the effect of GNP on these matrices as GNP was expected to behave differently in these composites. Bioglass (BG) was also chosen as a matrix material to prepare BG-GNP composites. GNP can improve the electrical conductivity of BG which can be used further for bone tissue engineering applications. The effect of GNP on both electrical conductivity and bio-activity of BG-GNP composites was investigated in detail. There were three main problems for fabricating these novel nano-composites: 1) Production of good quality graphene; 2) Homogeneous dispersion of graphene in a glass/ceramic matrix and; 3) Retention of the graphitic structure during high temperature processing. The first problem was solved by synthesising GNP using liquid phase exfoliation method instead of using a commercially available GNP. The prepared GNP were ~1 μm in length with a thickness of 3-4 layers confirmed using transmission electron microscopy. In order to solve the second problem various processing techniques were used including powder and colloidal processing routes along with different solvents. Processing parameters were optimised to fabricate glass/ceramic-GNP composite powders. Finally in order to avoid thermal degradation of the GNP during high temperature processing composites were sintered using spark plasma sintering (SPS) technique. Fully dense composites were obtained without damaging GNP during the sintering process also confirmed via Raman spectroscopy. Finally the prepared composites were characterised for mechanical, tribological and biological applications. Interestingly fracture toughness and wear resistance of the silica nano-composites increased with increasing concentration of GNP in the glass matrix. There was an improvement of ~45% in the fracture toughness and ~550% in the wear resistance of silica-GNP composites with the addition of 5 vol% GNP. GNP was found to be aligned in a direction perpendicular to the applied force in SPS. In contrast to amorphous materials fracture toughness and scratch resistance of alumina-GNP composites increased only for small loading of GNP and properties of the composites decreased after a critical concentration. There was an improvement of ~40% in the fracture toughness with the addition of only 0.5 vol% GNP in the alumina matrix while the scratch resistance of the composite increased by ~10% in the micro-ductile region. Electrical conductivity of the BG-GNP composite was increased by ~9 orders of magnitude compared to pure BG. In vitro bioactivity tests performed on BG-GNP composites confirmed that the addition of GNP to BG matrix also improved the bioactivity of the nano-composites confirmed using XRD analysis. Future work should focus on understanding electrical and thermal properties of these novel nano-composite
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