An atmospheric pressure helium and oxygen plasma was used to investigate surface activation and bonding in polymer composites. This device was operated by passing 1.0-3.0 vol% of oxygen in helium through a pair of parallel plate metal electrodes powered by 13.56 or 27.12 MHz radio frequency power. The gases were partially ionized between the capacitors where plasma was generated. The reactive species in the plasma were carried downstream by the gas flow to treat the substrate surface. The temperature of the plasm gas reaching the surface of the substrate did not exceed 150 oC, which makes it suitable for polymer processing. The reactive species in the plasma downstream includes ~ 1016-1017 cm-3 atomic oxygen, ~ 1015 cm-3 ozone molecule, and ~ 1016 cm-3 metastable oxygen molecule (O21Δg). The substrates were treated at 2-5 mm distance from the exit of the plasma. Surface properties of the substrates were characterized using water contact angle (WCA), atomic force microscopy (AFM), infrared spectroscopy (IR), and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). Subsequently, the plasma treated samples were bonded adhesively or fabricated into composites. The increase in mechanical strength was correlated to changes in the material composition and structure after plasma treatment. The work presented hereafter establishes atmospheric pressure plasma as an effective method to activate and to clean the surfaces of polymers and composites for bonding. This application can be further expanded to the activation of carbon fibers for better fiber-resin interactions during the fabrication of composites.
Treating electronic grade FR-4 and polyimide with the He/O2 plasma for a few seconds changed the substrate surface from hydrophobic to hydrophilic, which allowed complete wetting of the surface by epoxy in underfill applications. Characterization of the surface by X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy shows formation of oxygenated functional groups, including hydroxyl, carbonyl, and carboxyl groups, on the polymer surface after plasma treatment. The resulting strength of the bond based on lap-shear and T-peel tests correlates well with the concentration of oxygen on the polymer surface. The failure modes observed for lap-shear and T-peel tests changed from interfacial to cohesive after the plasma activation.
Treating carbon-fiber-reinforced epoxy composites with the atmospheric plasma resulted in the removal of fluorinated contaminants in shallow surface layers. For contaminants that diffused deeply into the composite surface, mechanical abrasion was needed in addition to the plasma treatment to remove the impurities. While cleaning the composite, plasma also generated active oxygen groups on the substrate surface. The presence of these groups improved the adhesive bonding strength of the composite even in the presence of residual fluorine contaminants. Thus, it was speculated that plasma treatment can promote better polymer adhesion with or without fluorine contamination.
Carbon nanotube sheets were also treated by the helium oxygen plasma, and the CNT surface turn from super hydrophobic to hydrophilic after a few seconds of exposure. The nanotube surface contained 15 % of oxygen in the form of hydroxyl groups. Chemical coupling agents were added to the plasma activated CNT surfaces in order to crosslink the CNTs and to create bonding sites for the resin matrix. Stretched, activated and functionalized CNT was cured with dicyclopentadiene (DCPD) to produce a sheet composite with a tensile strength of 636 MPa, a modulus of 28 GPa, and a density of 1.4 g/cm3. This may be compared to aerospace-grade aluminum with tensile strength of 572 MPa, modulus of 72 GPa, and density of 2.7 g/cm3. This work demonstrates that new high-strength composite can be produced with the use of atmospheric plasma activation and chemical crosslinking of the fiber matrix.