Origins of thermodynamically stable superhydrophobicity of boron nitriden nanotubes coatings

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Superhydrophobic surfaces are attractive as self-cleaning protective coatings in harsh environments with extreme temperatures and pH levels. Hexagonal phase boron nitride (h-BN) films are promising protective coatings due to their extraordinary chemical and thermal stability. However, their high surface energy makes them hydrophilic and thus not applicable as water repelling coatings. Our recent discovery on the superhydrophobicity of boron nitride nanotubes (BNNTs) is thus contradicting with the fact that BN materials would not be hydrophobic. To resolve this contradiction, we have investigated BNNT coatings by time-dependent contact angle measurement, thermogravimetry, IR spectroscopy, and electron microscopy. We found that the wettability of BNNTs is determined by the packing density, orientation, length of nanotubes, and the environmental condition. The origins of superhydrophobicity of these BNNT coatings are identified as (1) surface morphology and (2) hydrocarbon adsorbates on BNNTs. Hydrocarbon molecules adsorb spontaneously on the curved surfaces of nanotubes more intensively than on flat surfaces of BN films. This means the surface energy of BNNTs was enhanced by their large curvatures and thus increased the affinity of BNNTs to adsorb airborne molecules, which in turn would reduce the surface energy of BNNTs and make them hydrophobic. Our study revealed that both high-temperature and UV-ozone treatments can remove these adsorbates and lead to restitution of hydrophilic BN surface. However, nanotubes have a unique capability in building a hydrophobic layer of adsorbates after a few hours of exposure to ambient air.

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© 2011 American Chemical Society. Publisher’s version of record: https://dx.doi.org/10.1021/la204429z

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