Get the full paper here: ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 7, 4595 (2015).
Natural high-performance materials inspire the pursuit of ordered hard/soft nanocomposite structures at high fractions of reinforcements and with balanced supramolecular interactions. Such biomimetic design principles remain difficult to realize for bulk nanocomposites. Herein, we establish an effective drawing procedure that induces a high orientation of crystalline cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) in a matrix of carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) at high level of reinforcements (50 vol %). We show such alignment in rather thick bulk films and report synergetic improvement with a simultaneous increase of stiffness, strength, and work-to-fracture as a function of the degree of alignment. Scanning electron microscopy and two-dimensional X-ray diffraction quantify the alignment of the cylindrical nanoparticles and link it to the extent of drawing and improvements in mechanical properties. We further show that the decline in mechanical properties of such waterborne all biobased nanocomposites at high relative humidity can be balanced using supramolecular modulation of the ionic interactions by exchanging the monovalent Na+counterion, present in CMC and CNC with di- or trivalent Cu2+ and Fe3+. This contribution demonstrates the importance of aligning one-dimensional reinforcements to achieve synergetic improvement in mechanical properties in sustainable bioinspired nanocomposites and suggests pathways to prepare water-stable materials based on a waterborne processing route.