Achieving high strength and high ductility in metal matrix composites reinforced with a discontinuous three-dimensional graphene-like network†
Graphene or graphene-like nanosheets have been emerging as an attractive reinforcement for composites due to their unique mechanical and electrical properties as well as their fascinating two-dimensional structure. It is a great challenge to efficiently and homogeneously disperse them within a metal matrix for achieving metal matrix composites with excellent mechanical and physical performance. In this work, we have developed an innovative in situ processing strategy for the fabrication of metal matrix composites reinforced with a discontinuous 3D graphene-like network (3D GN). The processing route involves the in situ synthesis of the encapsulation structure of 3D GN powders tightly anchored with Cu nanoparticles (NPs) (3D GN@Cu) to ensure mixing at the molecular level between graphene-like nanosheets and metal, coating of Cu on the 3D GN@Cu (3D GN@Cu@Cu), and consolidation of the 3D GN@Cu@Cu powders. This process can produce GN/Cu composites on a large scale, in which the in situ synthesized 3D GN not only maintains the perfect 3D network structure within the composites, but also has robust interfacial bonding with the metal matrix. As a consequence, the as-obtained 3D GN/Cu composites exhibit exceptionally high strength and superior ductility (the uniform and total elongation to failure of the composite are even much higher than the unreinforced Cu matrix). To the best of our knowledge, this work is the first report validating that a discontinuous 3D graphene-like network can simultaneously remarkably enhance the strength and ductility of the metal matrix.