Scalable synthesis and purification of high-yield monolayer MXene dispersions in different media
GOOSSENS N. 1, LAMBRINOU K. 2, VLEUGELS J. 1, MOLINA LOPEZ F. 1
1 Department of Materials Engineering, KU Leuven, Heverlee, Belgium; 2 School of Computing and Engineering, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, United Kingdom
MXenes are electrically conductive nanometric 2D sheet-like transition metal carbides, resulting from the chemical exfoliation of 3D nanolaminated Mn+1AXn (MAX) phases. The precursor MAX phases are described by the Mn+1AXn general stoichiometry, where M is an early transition metal, A is an A-group element, X is C or N, and n = 1-3. Chemical exfoliation is achieved by the selective etching of the A-layers in the MAX phases, typically consisting of aluminum (Al). Their surface is terminated with functional groups (e.g., -F/-Cl/-OH) and becomes tunable by adapting the synthesis method, allowing MXenes to be tailored towards the envisaged application. MXenes are sparking an extreme interest as active functional 2D materials in electrochemistry, energy storage, catalysis, as well as for diverse thermoelectric and biomaterial applications. This study addresses the scalable synthesis of high-purity monolayer MXenes using a modified metal fluoride-based etching of the MAX phase Ti3AlC2, unraveling the electrochemistry of the etching route. A combination of spectroscopy (X-ray photo-electric spectroscopy (XPS), energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS), and electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS)), microscopy (atomic force microscopy (AFM), and scanning/transmission electron microscopy (S/TEM)) and X-ray diffraction (XRD) work characterizes the MXene morphology and surface after etching, while quantifying etching-induced secondary phases. Moreover, this work identifies the relationship between the adopted synthesis route, the resulting MXene morphology, and the resulting impurities in the etched products, proposing a new methodology for the selective purification and high-throughput extraction of MXene that aims at improving the stability, quality and yield of MXene dispersions in various aqueous and organic media. This work finally introduces a dry-storage methodology allowing large quantities of MXene clay to be stored under ambient conditions, preventing their excessive oxidation, while keeping the dry clay re-dispersible in aqueous and non-aqueous solvents for postponed delamination into monolayer dispersion. The shelf-life of MXenes without oxidation could be increased to over six months in air, demonstrating the possibility of upscaled etching, processing, and storing large batches of MXenes.