Introduction of Nanofibers | Properties of Nanofibers | Uses of Nanofibers

What is nanofiber?
Nanofibers are an exciting new class of material used for several value added applications such as medical, filtration, barrier, wipes, personal care, composite, garments, insulation, and energy storage. Special properties of nanofibers make them suitable for a wide range of applications from medical to consumer products and industrial to high-tech applications for aerospace, capacitors, transistors, drug delivery systems, battery separators, energy storage, fuel cells, and information technology.

Generally, polymeric nanofibers are produced by an electrospinning process (Figure 1). Electrospinning is a process that spins fibers of diameters ranging from 10nm to several hundred nanometers. This method has been known since 1934 when the first patent on electrospinning was filed. Fiber properties depend on field uniformity, polymer viscosity, electric field strength and DCD (distance between nozzle and collector). Advancements in microscopy such as scanning electron microscopy has enabled us to better understand the structure and morphology of nanofibers. At present the production rate of this process is low and measured in grams per hour.

Another technique for producing nanofibers is spinning bi-component fibers such as Islands-In-The-Sea fibers in 1-3 denier filaments with from 240 to possibly as much as 1120 filaments surrounded by dissolvable polymer. Dissolving the polymer leaves the matrix of nanofibers, which can be further separated by stretching or mechanical agitation.

The most often used fibers in this technique are nylon, polystyrene, polyacrylonitrile, polycarbonate, PEO, PET and water-soluble polymers. The polymer ratio is generally 80% islands and 20% sea. The resulting nanofibers after dissolving the sea polymer component have a diameter of approximately 300 nm. Compared to electrospinning, nanofibers produced with this technique will have a very narrow diameter range but are coarser .
Schematic representation of electrospinning process
Figure-1. Schematic representation of electrospinning process
Properties of Nanofibers
Nanofibers exhibit special properties mainly due to extremely high surface to weight ratio compared to conventional nonwovens.

Low density, large surface area to mass, high pore volume, and tight pore size make the nanofiber nonwoven appropriate for a wide range of filtration applications.

Nanofibers are smaller compared to a human hair, which is 50-150 ┬Ám and the size of a pollen particle compared to nanofibers. The elastic modulus of polymeric nanofibers of less than 350 nm is found to be 1.0±0.2 Gpa.

Application of Nanofibers

Nanofibers have significant applications in the area of filtration since their surface area is substantially greater and have smaller micropores than melt blown (MB) webs. High porous structure with high surface area makes them ideally suited for many filtration applications. Nanofibers are ideally suited for filtering submicron particles from air or water.

Medical Application
Electrospun fibers have diameters three or more times smaller than that of MB fibers. This leads to a corresponding increase in surface area and decrease in basis weight.
Figure-2. Comparison of red blood cell with nanofibers web

About the Editor-in-Chief:

Mazharul Islam Kiron is a textile consultant and researcher on online business promotion. He is working with one European textile machinery company as a country agent. He is also a contributor of Wikipedia.

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