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Comprehensive NMR Analysis of Pore Structures in Superabsorbing Cellulose Nanofiber Aerogels

Kharbanda, Yashu, Urbańczyk, Mateusz, Laitinen, Ossi, Kling, Kirsten, Pallaspuro, Sakari, Komulainen, Sanna, Liimatainen, Henrikki, Telkki, Ville-Veikko
Journal of physical chemistry 2019 v.123 no.51 pp. 30986-30995
aerogels, batteries, catalytic activity, cellulose, cellulose nanofibers, cyclohexanes, electrochemical capacitors, hydrogen, magnetic resonance imaging, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, physical chemistry
Highly porous cellulose nanofiber (CNF) aerogels are promising, environmentally friendly, reusable, and low-cost materials for several advanced environmental, biomedical, and electronic applications. The aerogels have a complex and hierarchical 3D porous network structure with pore sizes ranging from nanometers to hundreds of micrometers. The morphology of the network has a critical role on the performance of aerogels, but it is difficult to characterize thoroughly with traditional techniques. Here, we introduce a combination of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy techniques for comprehensive characterization of pore sizes and connectivity in the CNF aerogels. Cyclohexane absorbed in the aerogels was used as a probe fluid. NMR cryoporometry enabled us to characterize the size distribution of nanometer scale pores in between the cellulose nanofibers in the solid matrix of the aerogels. Restricted diffusion of cyclohexane revealed the size distribution of the dominant micrometer scale pores as well as the tortuosity of the pore network. T₂ relaxation filtered microscopic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) method allowed us to determine the size distribution of the largest, submillimeter scale pores. The NMR techniques are nondestructive, and they provide information about the whole sample volume (not only surfaces). Furthermore, they show how absorbed liquids experience the complex 3D pore structure. Thorough characterization of porous structures is important for understanding the properties of the aerogels and optimizing them for various applications. The introduced comprehensive NMR analysis set is widely usable for a broad range of different kinds of aerogels used in different applications, such as catalysis, batteries, supercapacitors, hydrogen storage, etc.