Rinse-resistant superhydrophobic block copolymer fabrics by electrospinning, electrospraying and thermally-induced self-assembly
An inherent problem that restricts the practical application of superhydrophobic materials is that the superhydrophobic property is not sustainable; it can be diminished, or even lost, when the surface is physically damaged. In this work, we present an efficient approach for the fabrication of superhydrophobic fibrous fabrics with great rinse-resistance where a block copolymer has been electrospun into a nanofibrous mesh while micro-sized beads have been subsequently electrosprayed to give a morphologically composite material. The intricate nano- and microstructure of the composite was then fixed by thermally annealing the block copolymer to induce self-assembly and interdigitation of the microphase separated domains. To demonstrate this approach, a polystyrene-b-poly(ethylene-co-butylene)-b-polystyrene (SEBS) nanofibrous scaffold was produced by electrospinning before SEBS beads were electrosprayed into this mesh to form a hierarchical micro/nanostructure of beads and fibers. The effects of type and density of SEBS beads on the surface morphology and wetting properties of composite membranes were studied extensively. Compared with a neat SEBS fibrous mesh, the composite membrane had enhanced hydrophobic properties. The static water contact angle increased from 139° (±3°) to 156° (±1°), while the sliding angle decreased to 8° (±1°) from nearly 90°. In order to increase the rinse-resistance of the composite membrane, a thermal annealing step was applied to physically bind the fibers and beads. Importantly, after 200 hours of water flushing, the hierarchical surface structure and superhydrophobicity of the composite membrane were well retained. This work provides a new route for the creation of superhydrophobic fabrics with potential in self-cleaning applications.