Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Chemical Engineering (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Chemical Engineering


Michael E. Mullins


Supercritical carbon dioxide is used to exfoliate graphite, producing a small, several-layer graphitic flake. The supercritical conditions of 2000, 2500, and 3000 psi and temperatures of 40°, 50°, and 60°C, have been used to study the effect of critical density on the sizes and zeta potentials of the treated flakes. Photon Correlation Spectroscopy (PCS), Brunauer-Emmett-Teller (BET) surface area measurement, field emission scanning electron microscopy (FE-SEM), and atomic force microscopy (AFM) are used to observe the features of the flakes. N-methyl-2-pyrrolidinone (NMP), dimethylformamide (DMF), and isopropanol are used as co-solvents to enhance the supercritical carbon dioxide treatment. As a result, the PCS results show that the flakes obtained from high critical density treatment (low temperature and high pressure) are more stable due to more negative charges of zeta potential, but have smaller sizes than those from low critical density (high temperature and low pressure). However, when an additional 1-hour sonication is applied, the size of the flakes from low critical density treatment becomes smaller than those from high critical density treatment. This is probably due to more CO2 molecules stacked between the layers of the graphitic flakes. The zeta potentials of the sonicated samples were slightly more negative than nonsonicated samples. NMP and DMF co-solvents maintain stability and prevented reaggregation of the flakes better than isopropanol. The flakes tend to be larger and more stable as the treatment time increases since larger flat area of graphite is exfoliated. In these experiments, the temperature has more impact on the flakes than pressure. The BET surface area resultsshow that CO2 penetrates the graphite layers more than N2. Moreover, the negative surface area of the treated graphite indicates that the CO2 molecules may be adsorbed between the graphite layers during supercritical treatment. The FE-SEM and AFM images show that the flakes have various shapes and sizes. The effects of surfactants can be observed on the FE-SEM images of the samples in one percent by weight solution of SDBS in water since the sodium dodecylbenzene sulfonate (SDBS) residue covers all of the remaining flakes. The AFM images show that the vertical thickness of the graphitic flakes can ranges from several nanometers (less than ten layers thick), to more than a hundred nanometers. In conclusion, supercritical carbon dioxide treatment is a promising step compared to mechanical and chemical exfoliation techniques in the large scale production of thin graphitic flake, breaking down the graphite flakes into flakes only a fewer graphene layers thick.