Generation of heterogeneous cellular structures by sonication
Torres Sanchez, María del Carmen
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Many materials require functionally graded cellular microstructures whose porosity (i.e. ratio of the void volume to the total volume of a material) is engineered to meet specific requirements and for an optimal performance in diverse applications. Numerous applications have demonstrated the potential of porous materials in areas ranging from biomaterial science through to structural engineering. Polymeric foams are an example of a cellular material whose microstructure can be considered as a blend of material and nonmaterial zones. While a huge variety of foams can be manufactured with homogenous porosity, for heterogeneous foams there are no generic processes for controlling the distribution of porosity throughout the resulting matrix. Motivated by the desire to create a flexible process for engineering heterogeneous foams, this work has investigated how ultrasound, applied during some of the foaming stages of a polyurethane melt, affects both the cellular structure and distribution of the pore size. After reviewing the literature concerning foam chemistry, ultrasound and sonochemistry, series of experiments were performed that used an ultrasonic field created by a sonotrode irradiating in a water bath containing a strategically placed vessel filled with foaming reactants. Prior to this, the acoustic field in the bath had been accurately mapped so that the acoustic pressure conditions within the foam container were known. During the foam polymerisation reaction, the acoustic pressure in the water bath varied causing the bubbles to pulsate in a state of ‘stable cavitation’ (i.e. rectified diffusion). This pulsation of the bubbles pumped gas from the liquid to the gas phase inducing them to increase in volume. The eventual solidification resulted in a porous material with a cellular structure that reflected the acoustic field imposed upon it. The experimental results revealed how the parameters of ultrasound exposure (i.e. frequency and acoustic pressure) influenced the volume and distribution of pores within the final polyurethane matrix: it was found that porosity varies in direct proportion to both the acoustic pressure and the frequency of the ultrasound signal. The effects of ultrasound on porosity demonstrated by this work offer the prospect of a manufacturing process that can control and adjust the cellular geometry of foam and hence ensure that the resulting characteristics of the heterogeneous material match the functional requirements.