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Gelation mechanism of resorcinol-formaldehyde gels investigated by dynamic light scattering

Taylor, Stewart J. and Haw, Mark D. and Sefcik, Jan and Fletcher, Ashleigh J. (2014) Gelation mechanism of resorcinol-formaldehyde gels investigated by dynamic light scattering. Langmuir, 30 (34). pp. 10231-10240. ISSN 0743-7463

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Xerogels and porous materials for specific applications such as catalyst supports, CO2 capture, pollutant adsorption, and selective membrane design require fine control of pore structure, which in turn requires improved understanding of the chemistry and physics of growth, aggregation, and gelation processes governing nanostructure formation in these materials. We used time-resolved dynamic light scattering to study the formation of resorcinol-formaldehyde gels through a sol-gel process in the presence of Group I metal carbonates. We showed that an underlying nanoscale phase transition (independent of carbonate concentration or metal type) controls the size of primary clusters during the preaggregation phase; while the amount of carbonate determines the number concentration of clusters and, hence, the size to which clusters grow before filling space to form the gel. This novel physical insight, based on a close relationship between cluster size at the onset of gelation and average pore size in the final xerogel results in a well-defined master curve, directly linking final gel properties to process conditions, facilitating the rational design of porous gels with properties specifically tuned for particular applications. Interestingly, although results for lithium, sodium, and potassium carbonate fall on the same master curve, cesium carbonate gels have significantly larger average pore size and cluster size at gelation, providing an extended range of tunable pore size for further adsorption applications.