Molecular dynamics simulations of the effect of waviness and agglomeration of CNTs on interface strength of thermoset nanocomposites
Most existing molecular dynamics simulations in nanoreinforced composites assume carbon nanotubes (CNTs) to be straight and uniformly dispersed within thermoplastics. In reality, however, CNTs are typically curved, agglomerated and aggregated as a result of van der Waal interactions and electrostatic forces. In this paper, we account for both curvature and agglomeration of CNTs in extensive molecular dynamic (MD) simulations. The purpose of these simulations is to evaluate the influence of waviness and agglomeration of these curved and agglomerated CNTs on the interfacial strength of thermoset nanocomposite and upon their load transfer capability. Two aspects of the work were accordingly examined. In the first, realistic carbon nanotubes (CNTs) of the same length but varied curvatures were embedded in thermoset polymer composites and simulations of pull-out tests were conducted to evaluate the corresponding interfacial shear strength (ISS). In the second, the effect of the agglomerate size upon the ISS was determined using bundles of CNTs of different diameters. The results of our MD simulations revealed the following. The pull-out force of the curved CNTs is significantly higher than its straight counterpart and increases further with the increase in the waviness of the CNTs. This is attributed to the added pull-out energy dissipated in straightening the CNTs during the pull-out process. It also reveals that agglomeration of CNTs leads to a reduction in the ISS and poor load transferability, and that this reduction is governed by the size of the agglomerate. The simulation results were also used to develop a generalized relation for the ISS that takes into consideration the effect of waviness and agglomeration of CNTs of CNT–polymer composites.