Polyethylene – metal oxide particle nanocomposites for future HVDC cable insulation : From interface tailoring to designed performance
Abstract: Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) nanocomposites containing metal oxide nanoparticles are considered as promising candidates for insulating materials in future high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) cables. The significant improvement in dielectric properties compared with unfilled polymer is attributed to the large and active interface between the nanoparticles and the polymer. The nanoparticles may also initiate cavitation under stress and potential accelerated aging risks due to the adsorption and inactivation of the protecting antioxidants. This study is focused on the possibilities of achieving well-balanced performances of the polyethylene nanocomposites for HVDC insulation via tailoring the particle interface in the nanocomposites.A facile and versatile surface coating method for metal oxide particles was developed based on silane chemistry. The developed method was successfully applied to 8.5 nm Fe3O4, 25 nm ZnO and 50 nm Al2O3 particles, with the aim to develop uniform coatings that universally could be applied on individual particles rather than aggregates of particles. The surface properties of the coatings were further tailored by applying silanes with terminal alkyl groups of different lengths, including methyl (C1-), octyl (C8-) and octadecyl (C18-) units. Transmission electron microscopy, infrared spectroscopy and thermal gravimetric analysis confirmed the presence of uniform coatings on the particle surface and importantly the coatings were found to be highly porous.The capacity of metal oxide particles to adsorb relevant polar species (e.g. moisture, acetophenone, cumyl alcohol and phenolic antioxidant) was further assessed due to its potential impact on electrical conductivity and long-term stability of the nanocomposites. The oxidative stability of the nanocomposites was affected by the adsorption of phenolic antioxidants on particles and transfer of catalytic impurities (ionic species) from metal oxide particles to polymer matrix. It was found that carefully coated metal oxide particles had much less tendency to adsorb antioxidants. They could, however, adsorb moisture, acetophenone and cumyl alcohol. The coated particles did not emit any destabilizing ionic species into the polymer matrix. The inter-particle distance of the nanocomposites based on C8-coated nanoparticles showed only a small deviation from the ideal, theoretical value, indicating a good particle dispersion in the polymer. Scanning electron microscopy of strained nanocomposite samples suggested the cavitation mainly occurred at the polymer/nanoparticles interface. The microstructural changes at polymer/nanoparticle interface were studied by small-angle X-ray scattering coupled with tensile testing. The polymer/nanoparticle interface was fractal before deformation due to the existence of the bound polymers at the nanoparticle surface. Extensive de-bonding of particles and cavitation were observed when the nanocomposites were stretched beyond a critical strain. It was found that the composites based on carefully coated particles showed higher strain at cavitation than the composites based on uncoated particles. The composites based on C8-coated nanoparticles showed the largest decrease in electrical conductivity and the lowest temperature coefficient of the electrical conductivity among the composite samples studied.
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