Obtaining high mechanical performance silk fibers by feeding purified carbon nanotube/lignosulfonate composite to silkworms
Silkworm fibers have attracted widespread attention for their superb glossy texture and promising mechanical performance. The mechanical properties can be reinforced with carbon nanofillers, particularly carbon nanotubes (CNTs), depending on the CNT content in the silk fibers. In order to increase the CNT content, lignosulfonate (LGS) was used as a surfactant to ameliorate the CNT solubility, dispersibility, and biocompatibility. The resulting CNT/LGS nano-composite was further processed through an additional purification method to remove excess surfactant and enhance the CNT/LGS ratio. Then the purified biocompatible single and multiple-walled CNTs were fed to silkworms, leading to a large CNT content in the resulting silk fibers. Reinforced silk fibers were produced with a mechanical strength as high as 1.07 GPa and a strain of 16.8%. The toughness modulus is 1.69 times than that of the unpurified group. The CNT-embedded silk fibers were characterized via Raman spectrometry and thermogravimetric analysis (TGA), demonstrating that the CNT content in the silk fibers increased 1.5-fold in comparison to the unpurified group. The increased CNT content not only contributed to the self-assembly into buffering knots of silk fibers, but it also enhanced the conductivity of graphitized silk. Our coating and purification strategies provide a potential facile way to obtain natural silk fibers with high mechanical performance.