Graphene-reinforced polymer matrix composites fabricated by in situ shear exfoliation of graphite in polymer solution: Processing, rheology, microstructure, and properties

Arab H. Hussein, Zhizhong Dong, Jennifer Lynch-Branzoi, Bernard H. Kear, Jerry W. Shan, Assimina A. Pelegri, Stephen D. Tse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Effective methods are needed to fabricate the next generation of high-performance graphene-reinforced polymer matrix composites (G-PMCs). In this work, a versatile and fundamental process is demonstrated to produce high-quality graphene-polymethylmethacrylate (G-PMMA) composites via in situ shear exfoliation of well-crystallized graphite particles loaded in highly-viscous liquid PMMA/acetone solutions into graphene nanoflakes using a concentric-cylinder shearing device. Unlike other methods where graphene is added externally to the polymer and mixed, our technique is a single step process where as-exfoliated graphene can bond directly with the polymer with no contamination/handling. The setup also allows for the investigation of the rheology of exfoliation and dispersion, providing process understanding in the attainment of the subsequently heat injection-molded and solidified G-PMC, essential for future manufacturing scalability, optimization, and repeatability. High PMMA/acetone concentration correlates to high mixture viscosity, which at large strain rates results in very-high shear stresses, producing a large number of mechanically-exfoliated flakes, as confirmed by liquid-phase UV-visible spectral analysis. Raman spectroscopy and other imaging evince that single- and bi-layer graphene are readily achieved. Nevertheless, a limit is reached at high mixtures viscosities where the process becomes unstable as non-Newtonian fluid behavior (e.g. viscoelastic) dominates the system. Characterization of microstructure, morphology, and properties of this new class of nanostructured composites reveals interesting trends. Observations by transmission electron microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, and helium ion microscopy of the manufactured G-PMCs show uniform distributions of unadulterated, well-bonded, discontinuous, graphene nanoflakes in a PMMA matrix, which enhances stiffness and strength via a load-transfer mechanism. Elastic modulus of 5.193 GPa and hardness of 0.265 GPa are achieved through processing at 0.7 g ml−1 of acetone/PMMA for 1% wt. starting graphite loading when injected into a sample mold at 200 °C. Mechanical properties exhibit 31% and 28.6% enhancement in elastic modulus and hardness, respectively, as measured by nano-indentation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number175703
Issue number17
StatePublished - Feb 5 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Bioengineering
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


  • Graphene
  • Materials properties
  • Polymer matrix composite
  • Processing
  • Rheology


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