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Polyethylene nanofibres with very high thermal conductivities

Abstract

Bulk polymers are generally regarded as thermal insulators, and typically have thermal conductivities on the order of 0.1 W m−1 K−1 (ref. 1). However, recent work2,3,4 suggests that individual chains of polyethylene—the simplest and most widely used polymer—can have extremely high thermal conductivity. Practical applications of these polymers may also require that the individual chains form fibres or films. Here, we report the fabrication of high-quality ultra-drawn polyethylene nanofibres with diameters of 50–500 nm and lengths up to tens of millimetres. The thermal conductivity of the nanofibres was found to be as high as 104 W m−1 K−1, which is larger than the conductivities of about half of the pure metals. The high thermal conductivity is attributed to the restructuring of the polymer chains by stretching, which improves the fibre quality toward an ‘ideal’ single crystalline fibre. Such thermally conductive polymers are potentially useful as heat spreaders and could supplement conventional metallic heat-transfer materials, which are used in applications such as solar hot-water collectors, heat exchangers and electronic packaging.

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Figure 1: Polyethylene chains and fibres.
Figure 2: Schematic of experimental set-up used to measure the thermal properties of a single ultra-drawn nanofibre.
Figure 3: Measuring the thermal conductivity of individual polyethylene nanofibres.
Figure 4: Molecular dynamics simulation about polyethylene.

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Acknowledgements

This work is supported by US National Science Foundation (NSF) grant numbers CBET-0755825 and CBET-0506830 for molecular dynamics simulation and fibre fabrication, and US Department of Energy (DOE) grant number DE-FG02-02ER45977 for the cantilever measurement platform.

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S.S. and G.C. conceived and designed the experiments. S.S. and J.T. performed the experiments. A.H. provided the molecular dynamics simulation. R.Z. contributed TEM analysis. S.S., A.H. and G.C. wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript. G.C. supervised the research.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gang Chen.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Shen, S., Henry, A., Tong, J. et al. Polyethylene nanofibres with very high thermal conductivities. Nature Nanotech 5, 251–255 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nnano.2010.27

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