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.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $4.92 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Sperling, L. H. Introduction to Physical Polymer Science (Wiley-Interscience, 2006)
Wang, Z. et al. Ultrafast flash thermal conductance of molecular chains. Science 317, 787–790 (2007).
Wang, R. Y., Segalman, R. A. & Majumdar, A. Room temperature thermal conductance of alkanedithiol self-assembled monolayers. Appl. Phys. Lett. 89, 173113 (2006).
Henry, A. & Chen, G. High thermal conductivity of single polyethylene chains using molecular dynamics simulations. Phys. Rev. Lett. 101, 235502 (2008).
Baur, J. & Silverman, E. Challenges and opportunities in multifunctional nanocomposite structures for aerospace applications. MRS Bull. 32, 328–334 (2007).
Winey, K. I., Kashiwagi, T. & Mu, M. F. Improving electrical conductivity and thermal properties of polymers by the addition of carbon nanotubes as fillers. MRS Bull. 32, 348–353 (2007).
Kim, P., Shi, L., Majumdar, A. & McEuen, P. L. Thermal transport measurements of individual multiwalled nanotubes. Phys. Rev. Lett. 87, 215502 (2000).
Moniruzzaman, M. & Winey, K. I. Polymer nanocomposites containing carbon nanotubes. Macromolecules 39, 5194–5205 (2006).
Huxtable, S. T. et al. Interfacial heat flow in carbon nanotube suspensions. Nature Mater. 2, 731–734 (2003).
Kanamoto, T., Tsuruta, A., Tanaka, K., Takeda, M. & Porter, R. S. Superdrawing of ultrahigh molecular-weight polyethylene 1. Effect of techniques on drawing of single-crystal mats. Macromolecules 21, 470–477 (1988).
Choy, C. L., Wong, Y. W., Yang, G. W. & Kanamoto, T. Elastic modulus and thermal conductivity of ultradrawn polyethylene. J. Polym. Sci. B 37, 3359–3367 (1999).
Fermi, E., Pasta, J. & Ulam, S. Studies of nonlinear problems. Los Alamos Report LA1940 (1955).
Chae, H. G. & Kumar, S. Making strong fibers. Science 319, 908–909 (2008).
Smith, P. & Lemstra, P. J. Ultra-high-strength polyethylene filaments by solution spinning/drawing. J. Mater. Sci. 15, 505–514 (1980).
Choy, C. L., Fei, Y. & Xi, T. G. Thermal-conductivity of gel-spun polyethylene fibers. J. Polym. Sci. B 31, 365–370 (1993).
Poulaert, B., Chielens, J. C., Vandenhende, C., Issi, J. P. & Legras, R. Thermal conductivity of highly oriented polyethylene fibers. Polym. Commun. 31, 148–151 (1990).
Fujishiro, H., Ikebe1, M., Kashima, T. & Yamanaka, A. Drawing effect on thermal properties of high-strength polyethylene fibers. Jpn J. Appl. Phys. 37, 1994–1995 (1998).
Harfenist, S. A. et al. Direct drawing of suspended filamentary micro- and nanostructures from liquid polymer. Nano Lett. 4, 1931–1937 (2004).
Nain, A. S., Amon, C. & Sitti, M. Proximal probes based nanorobotic drawing of polymer micro/nanofibers. IEEE Trans. Nanotechnol. 5, 499–510 (2006).
Smith, P., Chanzy, H. D. & Rotzinger, B. P. Drawing of virgin ultrahigh molecular-weight polyethylene—an alternative route to high-strength high modulus materials 2. Influence of polymerization temperature. J. Mater. Sci. 22, 523–531 (1987).
Barnes, J. R., Stephenson, R. J., Welland, M. E., Gerber, C. & Gimzewski, J. K. Photothermal spectroscopy with femtojoule sensitivity using a micromechanical device. Nature 372, 79–81 (1994).
Majumdar, A. Scanning thermal microscopy. Annu. Rev. Mater. Sci. 29, 505–585 (1999).
Shen, S., Narayanaswamy, A., Goh, S. & Chen, G. Thermal conductance of bimaterial microcantilevers. Appl. Phys. Lett. 92, 063509 (2008).
Peterlin, A. Drawing and extrusion of semi-crystalline polymers. Coll. Polym. Sci. 265, 357–382 (1987).
Van Aerle, N. A. J. M. & Braam, A. W. M. A structural study on solid state drawing of solution-crystallized ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene. J. Mater. Sci. 23, 4429–4436 (1988).
Morelli, D. T., Heremans, J., Sakamoto, M. & Uher, C. Anisotropic heat-conduction in diacetylenes. Phys. Rev. Lett. 57, 869–872 (1986).
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.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
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
npj Flexible Electronics (2021)
Nature Materials (2021)
Nature Reviews Physics (2021)
Polymer Bulletin (2021)
Preparation of thermal conductive anticorrosive composite coatings via synergistic effect of carbon nanofillers and heat transfer oil
Colloid and Polymer Science (2021)