Given the high interest in promoting crosslinking efficiency of ultraviolet-initiated crosslinking technique and ameliorating electrical resistance of crosslinked polyethylene (XLPE) materials, we have developed the funcionalized-SiO2/XLPE nanocomposites by chemically grafting auxiliary crosslinkers onto nanosilica surfaces. Trimethylolpropane triacrylate (TMPTA) as an effective auxiliary crosslinker for polyethylene is grafted successfully on nanosilica surfaces through thiolene-click chemical reactions with coupling agents of sulfur silanes and 3-mercaptopropyl trimethoxy silane (MPTMS), as characterized by nuclear magnetic resonance and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy. The functionalized SiO2 nanoparticles could be dispersively filled into polyethylene matrix even at a high filling content that would generally produce agglomerations of neat SiO2 nanofillers. Ultraviolet-initiated polyethylene crosslinking reactions are efficiently stimulated by TMPTA grafted onto surfaces of SiO2 nanofillers, averting thermal migrations out of polyethylene matrix. Electrical-tree pathways and growth mechanism are specifically investigated by elucidating the microscopic tree-morphology with fractal dimension and simulating electric field distributions with finite-element method. Near nano-interfaces where the shielded-out electric fluxlines concentrate, the highly enhanced electric fields will stimulate partial discharging and thus lead to the electrical-trees being able to propagate along the routes between nanofillers. Surface-modified SiO2 nanofillers evidently elongate the circuitous routes of electrical-tree growth to be restricted from directly developing toward ground electrode, which accounts for the larger fractal dimension and shorter length of electrical-trees in the functionlized-SiO2/XLPE nanocomposite compared with XLPE and neat-SiO2/XLPE nanocomposite. Polar-groups on the modified nanosilica surfaces inhibit electrical-tree growth and simultaneously introduce deep traps impeding charge injections, accounting for the significant improvements of electrical-tree resistance and dielectric breakdown strength. Combining surface functionalization and nanodielectric technology, we propose a strategy to develop XLPE materials with high electrical resistance.
Trimethylolpropane triacrylate (TMPTA) as a photoactive crosslinker is grafted onto hydrophobic nanosilica surface through click chemical reactions of mercapto double bonds to prepare the functionalized nanoparticles (TMPTA-s-SiO2), which are used to develop TMPTA-s-SiO2/XLPE nanocomposites with improvements in mechanical strength and electrical resistance. The expedited aging experiments of water-tree growth are performed with a water-knife electrode and analyzed in consistence with the mechanical performances evaluated by means of dynamic thermo-mechanical analysis (DMA) and tensile stress–strain characteristics. Due to the dense cross-linking network of polyethylene molecular chains formed on the TMPTA-modified surfaces of SiO2 nanofillers, TMPTA-s-SiO2 nanofillers are chemically introduced into XLPE matrix to acquire higher crosslinking degree and connection strength in the amorphous regions between polyethylene lamellae, accounting for the higher water-tree resistance and ameliorated mechanical performances, compared with pure XLPE and neat-SiO2/XLPE nanocomposite. Hydrophilic TMPTA molecules grafted on the nano-SiO2 surface can inhibit the condensation of water molecules into water micro-beads at insulation defects, thus attenuating the damage of water micro-beads to polyethylene configurations under alternating electric fields and thus restricting water-tree growth in amorphous regions. The intensified interfaces between TMPTA-s-SiO2 nanofillers and XLPE matrix limit the segment motions of polyethylene molecular chains and resist the diffusion of water molecules in XLPE amorphous regions, which further contributes to the excellent water-tree resistance of TMPTA-s-SiO2/XLPE nanocomposites.
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