Fabrication and Characterization of Dense Zirconia and Zirconia-Silica Ceramic Nanofibers

The objective of this study was to prepare dense zirconia-yttria (ZY), zirconia-silica (ZS) and zirconia-yttria-silica (ZYS) nanofibers as reinforcing elements for dental composites. Zirconium (IV) propoxide, yttrium nitrate hexahydrate, and tetraethyl orthosilicate (TEOS) were used as precursors for the preparation of zirconia, yttria, and silica sols. A small amount (1–1.5 wt%) of polyethylene oxide (PEO) was used as a carry polymer. The sols were preheated at 70 °C before electrospinning and their viscosity was measured with a viscometer at different heating time. The gel point was determined by viscosity–time (η–t) curve. The ZY, ZS and ZYS gel nanofibers were prepared using a special reactive electrospinning device under the conditions near the gel point. The as-prepared gel nanofibers had diameters between 200 and 400 nm. Dense (nonporous) ceramic nanofibers of zirconia-yttria (96/4), zirconia-silica (80/20) and zirconia-yttria-silica (76.8/3.2/20) with diameter of 100–300 nm were obtained by subsequent calcinations at different temperatures. The gel and ceramic nanofibers obtained were characterized by scanning electron microscope (SEM), high-resolution field-emission scanning electron microscope (FE-SEM), thermogravimetric analyzer (TGA), differential scanning calorimeter (DSC), Fourier transform infrared spectrometer (FT-IR), and X-ray diffraction (XRD). SEM micrograph revealed that ceramic ZY nanofibers had grained structure, while ceramic ZS and ZYS nanofibers had smooth surfaces, both showing no visible porosity under FE-SEM. Complete removal of the polymer PEO was confirmed by TGA/DSC and FT-IR. The formation of tetragonal phase of zirconia and amorphous silica was proved by XRD. In conclusion, dense zirconia-based ceramic nanofibers can be fabricated using the new reactive sol–gel electrospinning technology with minimum organic polymer additives.

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