In this study, we have electrospun poly(vinyl alcohol)(PVA) nanofibres and PVA composite nanofibres containing multi-wall carbon nanotubes (MWNTs) (4.5 wt%), and examined the effect of the carbon nanotubes and the PVA morphology change induced by post-spinning treatments on the tensile properties, surface hydrophilicity and thermal stability of the nanofibres. Through differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) and wide-angle x-ray diffraction (WAXD) characterizations, we have observed that the presence of the carbon nanotubes nucleated crystallization of PVA in the MWNTs/PVA composite nanofibres, and hence considerably improved the fibre tensile strength. Also, the presence of carbon nanotubes in PVA reduced the fibre diameter and the surface hydrophilicity of the nanofibre mat. The MWNTs/PVA composite nanofibres and the neat PVA nanofibres responded differently to post-spinning treatments, such as soaking in methanol and crosslinking with glutaric dialdehyde, with the purpose of increasing PVA crystallinity and establishing a crosslinked PVA network, respectively. The presence of carbon nanotubes reduced the PVA crystallization rate during the methanol treatment, but prevented the decrease of crystallinity induced by the crosslinking reaction. In comparison with the crosslinking reaction, the methanol treatment resulted in better improvement in the fibre tensile strength and less reduction in the tensile strain. In addition, the presence of carbon nanotubes reduced the onset decomposition temperature of the composite nanofibres, but stabilized the thermal degradation for the post-spinning treated nanofibres. The MWNTs/PVA composite nanofibres treated by both methanol and crosslinking reaction gave the largest improvement in the fibre tensile strength, water contact angle and thermal stability.
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