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Formation Mechanism of Cubic Mesoporous Carbon Monolith Synthesized by Evaporation-Induced Self-assembly

The formation mechanism of the cubic mesoporous carbon, FDU-16, synthesized by evaporation-induced self-assembly (EISA) was investigated at the molecular level by electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopic techniques

Group of test tubes, close-up

Authors
Marc Florent, Chunfeng Xue, Dongyuan Zhao, and Daniella Goldfarb

Abstract
The formation mechanism of the cubic mesoporous carbon, FDU-16, synthesized by evaporation-induced self-assembly (EISA) was investigated at the molecular level by electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopic techniques. This material is synthesized using F127 pluronic block copolymer [poly(ethylene oxide)–poly(propylene oxide)–poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO106-PPO70-PEO106)] as a structure-directing agent (template) and phenolic resol as a carbon precursor. Using two spin probes derived from pluronics with PEO and PPO chains of different lengths that are designed to sense different regions of the system, we followed the evaporation and thermopolymerization stages of the synthesis in situ. To make such studies possible, we have used a polyurethane foam support, placed in the EPR tube, which allows for the efficient solvent evaporation as required for EISA. We focused on the evolution of the dynamics of the template and its interactions with the resol during the reaction. We observed that during the evaporation stage the resol is distributed throughout the entire PEO blocks, all the way to the PPO–PEO interface, interacting with them via H-bonds, thus hindering the local motion of the PEO chains. At the end of this stage there is no polarity gradient along the PEO blocks, as found for traditional F127 micelles in water or during the synthesis of silica materials, and the mesostructure is not well-defined. A polarity and a resol gradient developed during the thermopolymerization stage where the polymerizing resol is driven out to the outer region of the PEO corona. This produces a corona of resin-pluronic composite and a resol-free PPO core with high mobility of the PEO segments close to the PPO–PEO interface and restricted mobility in the composite corona. During this stage the final structure sets in.

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