Simulating the effects of carbon nanotube continuity and interfacial bonding on composite strength and stiffness

Document Type


Publication Date



© 2018 Molecular dynamics simulations of carbon nanotube (CNT) composites, in which the CNTs are continuous across the periodic boundary, overestimate the experimentally measured mechanical properties of CNT composites along the fiber direction. Since the CNTs in these composites are much shorter than the composite dimensions, load must be transferred either directly between CNTs or through the matrix, a mechanism that is absent in simulations of effectively continuous CNTs. In this study, the elastic and fracture properties of high volume fraction discontinuous carbon nanotube/amorphous carbon composite systems were compared to those of otherwise equivalent continuous CNT composites using ReaxFF reactive molecular dynamics simulations. The simulation results quantify the dependence of composite mechanical properties on the number of nanotube-matrix interfacial covalent bonds. Furthermore, the mechanical impact of interfacial bonding was decomposed to reveal its effect on the properties of the CNTs, the interfacial layer of matrix, and the bulk matrix. For the composites with continuous reinforcement, it was found that any degree of interfacial bonding has a negative impact on axial tensile strength and stiffness. This is due to disruption of the structure of the CNTs and interfacial matrix layer by the interfacial bonds. For the discontinuous composites, the modulus was maximized between 4% and 7% interfacial bonding and the strength continued to increase up to the highest levels of interfacial bonding studied. Areas of low stress and voids were observed in the simulated discontinuous composites at the ends of the tubes, from which fracture was observed to initiate. Experimental carbon nanotube yarn composites were fabricated and tested. The experimental results illustrate the knockdown factors that reduce composite mechanical properties relative to those of the tubes themselves.

Publication Title

Composites Science and Technology