On the Mean Flow Pore Size Distribution of Microfiber and Nanofiber Webs

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1 ORIGINAL PAPER/PEER-REVIEWED On the Mean Flow Pore Size Distribution of Microfiber and Nanofiber Webs By Dr. Norman Lifshutz, Senior Research Fellow, Hollingsworth & Vose Co. Abstract A nonwoven fibrous filter media is modeled as a planar stochastic array of straight lines defining multiple polygons. The cumulative distribution and mean of the hydraulic diameter of these polygons is determined, and related theoretically to the mean flow pore diameter commonly measured by commercial partial flow testers. This model is tested against data obtained for a range of wetlaid glass microfiber handsheets and electrospun polymeric nanofiber webs. The results indicate that the simple two-layer model is inadequate. However, a statistically powerful correlation between mean flow pore diameter, total fiber length per unit area, and fiber diameter, is demonstrated to hold. Introduction The general concept of modeling a nonwoven fibrous web as a planar stochastic array of straight lines is at least forty years old. Citations begin with Corte and Lloyd [1] in 1966, and Piekaar and Clarenburg [2] in 1967, and continue with Johnston [3,4] in 1983 and Deng and Dodson [5] gave a comprehensive discussion of the stochastic geometry of random fibrous networks in 1994, and most recently, the area was reviewed by Sampson [6] in All of these models dealt with random networks of fibers of finite length. In all of these references there is theoretical discussion of the pore size and the pore size distribution, but no actual measurement of pore size. The measurement of pore size distribution by through flow testing also has a considerable history, from its beginnings as a bubble point evaluation or max pore test, through the manual partial flow tester, to the discussion of the Coulter automated liquid porosimeter [7] by Batchu, to the current instruments offered by PMI [8], Xonics [9], and Topas [10]. The aim of this work was to revisit the simplest model of a nonwoven fibrous web using a planar stochastic array of straight lines, assuming that the fibers are effectively infinite. Then, by using image analysis software on the resulting graphical images, I determine the simplest and most appropriate distribution for the resulting hydraulic pore diameter distribution. This was then integrated to provided a direct relationship between the mean flow pore diameter and the mean hydraulic pore diameter, and finally this model was compared to actual measurements of mean flow pore diameters measured on a range of wet laid glass microfiber hand sheets and electrospun polymeric nanofiber webs. The Geometric Model I begin by modeling the web as a random collection of lines. Imagine a small circular region of the web, as seen through a microscope. Each fiber traversing the region of radius R is represented as a line connecting two points whose polar coordinates are {R, θ 1 } and {R, θ 2 }. Thus N fibers are generated by randomly selecting N pairs of angles, all in the range from 0 to 2π. The Cartesian coordinates of these entry and exit points are then given by: (eq. 1) These equations were set up pairwise in two columns in an Excel spread sheet. Each fiber was given by a pair of rows, with an empty row in between. A graph was then created which was just the image of the N fibers. For example, Figure 1 is such an image for 400 fibers. This graphical image was copied and pasted through an image viewing shareware program from which it was exported as a TIF file. The TIF file was finally imported into an image analysis shareware program named ImageJ, which is freely available from the National Institute of Health. This software automatically measures and tabulates the area, A i, 18 INJ Spring 2005

2 Figure FIBERS WITH RANDOM STARTING AND ENDING POINTS and the perimeter, P i, of each of the polygonal regions generated by the intersection of all the fibers. From these two measurements we calculate the hydraulic diameter from equation 2. (eq. 2) We choose the hydraulic diameter because it arises naturally in the hydrodynamics of flow through a conduit and we note that for a circle it reduces to the diameter and for a square it reduces to the length of a side. The resulting cumulative probability distribution can then be easily determined and displayed. Figure 2 shows the cumulative hydraulic diameter of the polygons that result from 50, 100, 200 and 400 lines. This cumulative distribution P>(D) is just the fraction of the polygons with hydraulic diameter greater than D. It is clear that this cumulative probability distribution can be effectively represented by a two-parameter exponential distribution, where p(d) is the corresponding differential distribution. The fact that a small but finite lower bound on D is required is an artifact created by the finite pixel size involved in the digital image and its analysis. For an infinitely small pixel size we can use: (eq. 3) Of course, these are the number distributions, referring to the counted number of pores of each size. However, we are interested in the mean flow pore, which is that size which will allow half of the full airflow through the web. Most people would use the Hagen Poisuelle law to argue that flow through a pore should vary as D 4. However, a pore in this planar model is not a capillary tube, and so might best be considered an orifice. For orifices, one usually assumes that the flow rate varies as D 2. Thus, for the orifice model the cumulative flow distribution, F>(D), would be given by: (eq. 4) On the other hand, for the capillary model the cumulative flow distribution would be given by: (eq. 5) By definition, the mean flow pore diameter, D MF, is that value for which the flow is reduced by half in a partial flow test instrument. It is that value of D for which F>(D) = 1/2, so that we must satisfy one of two equations, depending on which model we choose. 19 INJ Spring 2005

3 (eq. 10) As in our model, the fibers divide the mat into polygonal areas, and we can calculate P P, the total polygonal perimeter per unit area, by simply doubling the length of fiber per unit area, since each segment of fiber is bounding two polygons, one on each side of the fiber. On the other hand, A P, the polygonal area per unit area of the mat, is not 1, but rather we must subtract the coverage or projected area of the fibers. Of course this only has meaning for sheets with coverage less than 1: Figure 2 CUMULATIVE DIAMETER DISTRIBUTION (eq. 13) (eq. 6) The most accessible average diameter is the mean hydraulic diameter, D H, which is four times the area of all pores divided by the total perimeter of all pores. (eq. 7) Thus, depending on which model we choose we have a relationship between the mean hydraulic pore diameter and the mean flow pore diameter: (eq. 8) Real Nonwovens Let us now turn the discussion to real fibrous nonwovens. Let us begin by assuming that there is a web of grammage G, made up of fibers having a diameter d f and material density ρ. The specific length or length per unit mass of a fiber is just Λ f =4/πd f2 ρ, so that Λ, the total length of fiber per unit area of the mat, is given by: Thus the mean hydraulic pore diameter for a low coverage sheet is given by the equation: (Eq. 14) Partial Flow Testing In partial flow testing a sample is saturated with a fluid of known surface tension, γ, and low vapor pressure. Pressure is applied to one side of the saturated web, forcing liquid to migrate to the other side. As the pressure is increased a point is reached where a first bubble can escape from the largest pore on the down stream side of the saturated web, and as the pressure is increased bubbles can escape from progressively smaller and smaller pores. Knowing the surface tension we can immediately relate the pore size, D P, from which bubbles are escaping, to the pressure, P, that is being applied, using the equation D P = 4γ/P. The flow rate of gas is measured as a function of the applied pressure, and the mean flow pore diameter is the pore diameter corresponding to the pressure at which the gas flow is half what it would be for a dry sheet. The question now arises, from the model we developed above and real "mean flow" pore data, can we calculate the effective basis length that actually determines the pore size distribution? In other words, combining equations 8 and 14 gives allows us to define the effective basis length, Λ EFF. (eq. 15) 20 INJ Spring 2005

4 Table 1 HAND SHEET DATA To test this approach we prepared wet laid hand sheets with a range of Evanite glass microfiber grades, and PPG chopped DE glass, having a range of basis weights. The specific surface area of these samples were measured by BET analysis using a Micromeritics Gemini 2370 instrument and the surface area equivalent fiber diameter was then calculated. An additional 21 INJ Spring 2005

5 Figure 3 EFFECTIVE BASIS LENGTH VS BASIS LENGTH AND FIBER DIAMETER set of samples was prepared by electrospinning a range of polyvinyl alcohol webs, having a range of basis weights. The fiber diameters of these sheets were determined from SEM images, measuring 100 fibers and calculating the surface area equivalent average diameter for consistency with the BET measurements. The solidity of the glass samples was determined by measuring the liquid retention of the sheet with Galden Fluid. Mean flow pore measurements on all the samples were carried out using an Automated Capillary Flow Porometer from Porous Materials Inc with Galden Fluid. The complete data set is shown in Table 1. From the measured mean flow pore values and the measured fiber diameter we calculated an effective basis length, L EFF, for each sample, using both the orifice model and the capillary model. The relationship between effective basis length calculated with the orifice model, the sheet basis length and the fiber diameter is shown in Figure 3. Both the fiber diameter term and the basis length term are very statistically significant, with p values of 10-8 and respectively. The implication of Figure 3 is that the mean flow pore diameter is determined by a very small fraction of the fiber in the sheet, which I take to be a thin down stream layer, and the exact quantity of fiber in that thin downstream layer of fiber is a function only of the basis length of the web, and the fiber diameter. Figure 4 shows the same result for the effective basis length calculated using the capillary model. The only difference is a slightly higher R 2 and slightly lower p values of and for fiber diameter and basis length respectively. Thus, the dependence of mean flow pore on a very small fraction of the fiber length in the sheet is not a large function of the flow model chosen. An alternative way of looking at the data would be to seek a simple correlation between the raw mean flow pore data, the basis length of the sheet, and the fiber diameter, as shown in Figure 5. It is clear that there is indeed a very strong correlation between the mean flow pore diameter, the fiber diameter, and the basis length of fiber in the sheet, as expressed in the regression equation shown there. 22 INJ Spring 2005

6 Figure 4 EFFECTIVE BASIS LENGTH VS BASIS LENGTH AND FIBER DIAMETER Conclusions: 1. A simple stochastic model of a fibrous nonwoven web leads us to an exponential distribution of the hydraulic diameter of the pores resulting from the intersection of all the fibers. 2. The mean flow pore diameter can then be shown to be a simple multiple of the mean hydraulic diameter. The constant is or depending on whether one uses an orifice model or a capillary model. 3. Based on these models and extensive experimental data, the effective length of fiber determining the mean flow pore size is one to two orders of magnitude less than the total length of fiber in a fibrous nonwoven web, suggesting that the mean flow pore diameter is determined by a very thin downstream layer of the web. While sample basis length ranged from less than 1.0 to over 400 mm/m 2, the effective basis length varied from.04 to over 1.0 mm/m 2. In terms of coverage, the samples ranged from 2 to 100 m 2 /m 2 while the effective coverage ranged from.1 to 3 m 2 /m 2. Finally, in terms of thickness the samples ranged from 20 to 3400 fiber diameters while the effective thickness varied from 3.5 to 15.5 fiber diameters. 4. The mean flow pore diameter of a fibrous nonwoven web appears to depend only on the diameter of the fiber and the basis length of the web. References: 1. Corte, H. and E.H. Lloyd, Trans. IIIrd Fund. Res. Symp. BPBMA, London, 1966, p Piekaar, H.W. and L.A. Clarenberg, Chem. Eng. Sci p Johnston, P.R., J. Testing & Evaluation (2) p Johnston, P.R., Filtration & Separation (3) p Deng, M. and C.T.J. Dodson, Paper: An Engineered Stochastic Structure Tappi Press, Atlanta, Sampson, W.W., Trans. XIIth Fund. Res. Symp. Pulp and Paper Fundamental Research Society, Bury, 2001 p Batchu, H..R., Proc Nonwovens Conference TAPPI Press, Atlanta, 1990, p Porous Materials Inc. Capillary Flow Porometer, 23 INJ Spring 2005

7 Figure 5 PORE DIAMETER VS BASIS LENGTH AND FIBER DIAMETER 9. Xonics Capillary Flow Porometer. ter3g.html 10. Topas Pore Size Meter. INJ 24 INJ Spring 2005

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