Effect of fiber diameter and web porosity on breathability of nanofiber mats at various test conditions
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Barrier fabrics laminated with nanofiber membranes are used in protective textiles due to their ability to achieve high breathability or water vapor transmission rate (WVTR) while maintaining required barrier properties. The objective of this thesis is to investigate the factors impacting nanofiber membrane breathability. To achieve this objective, the effect of test conditions on breathability, and the relationship between fiber diameter, web porosity and breathability were explored. Nanofiber membranes were solution-spun by electrospinning from 15wt% and 20wt% PA6 solution concentrations, and by forcespinning from 20wt% and 25wt% concentrations. Three web area densities were made from each spinning method and solution combination: 5GSM, 10GSM and 15GSM. In order to investigate the impact of measurement conditions, breathability of all samples was measured by upright cup method (ASTM E96B) at two relative humidity levels (20% and 50%), and three air flow velocity levels (300fpm, 500fpm and 700fpm). The results showed that WVTR of all samples increased significantly when decreasing humidity or increasing air flow velocity. Webs with a lower density (5GSM or 10GSM) had higher changes of WVTR than those with a higher density (10GSM or 15GSM). These results indicate an interaction between the ambient conditions and the nanoweb structure, whereby conditions that are more conducive to water vapor transmission, such as 20%RH and 700fpm, are more discriminant between membranes. Both electropspun and forcespun membranes processed from the lower concentration solutions (15wt%, and 20wt%, respectively) exhibited smaller fiber diameters and smaller mean pore size. Overall, WVTR values varied with membrane thickness, and with solution concentration following a similar pattern as porosity. These effects were more accentuated for the forcespun samples, which had considerably larger pores (2811-5230nm) than the electrospun counterparts (163-298nm). Furthermore, samples forcespun by 20wt% solution were found to have clearly higher WVTR (1587-2194g/m²/24h at 700fpm) than electrospun samples (1526-1614g/m²/24h at 700fpm). This can be explained by the significant difference of pore size between electrospun and forcespun webs. It was concluded that breathability of forcespun samples, particularly those low density ones, could be effectively adjusted by solution concentration and is more sensitive to change of test conditions than that of electrospun webs.