Rheological and microstructural characterization of aqueous suspensions of carbon black and reduced graphene oxide

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Carbon black is often used as a conductivity enhancer in battery electrodes. Reduced graphene oxide is another conducting material, with a high aspect ratio sheet-like morphology, and offers the possibility of generating a conducting network at loadings that are small compared to carbon black. Suspensions of conducting carbon, active materials and binders are typically coated on current collectors during the formation of electrodes. The rheology of these suspensions is an important indicator of the connectivity of particles in the suspension and impacts the electrical conductivity as well as the thickness of the coated layer. In this work, the rheology and microstructures of aqueous suspensions of para-aminobenzoic acid terminated carbon black (CB) with and without reduced graphene oxide (RGO) were investigated. The CB loading varied between 0.05 wt.% -10 wt.%, while the samples containing RGO had an RGO loading of 0.05 wt.%. The pH of the suspension was varied from 7.5 to 3. The carboxyl groups on the CB surface are deprotonated at pH 7.5, making the particles hydrophilic. Protonation of the carboxylate groups at pH 3 makes the particles partially hydrophobic. Suspensions of CB showed Newtonian behavior at all loadings for pH 7.5, and at loadings below 1.5 wt.% for pH 3. They are shear thinning at loadings between 1.5–10 wt.%. Interestingly, the low shear viscosity is non-monotonic with CB loading, rising up to a CB loading of 7.5 wt.%, and then dropping at 10 wt.%. Cryogenic scanning electron microscopy (SEM) showed CB particles forming aggregates at pH 3 for CB loadings greater than 1.5 wt.%. At pH 3, addition of 0.05 wt.% RGO resulted in a viscosity increase for suspensions containing 0.5 wt.% CB, as the RGO formed connections with CB particles that enhanced network formation. Adding RGO had little effect on suspensions that had 1.5 wt.% CB. The combination of SEM imaging and suspension rheology provides insight into the particle connectivity for the carbon-based materials studied here. These insights will be useful in determining coating conditions for slurries used in rechargeable battery electrodes.

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Colloids and Surfaces A: Physicochemical and Engineering Aspects