ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, 2019, vol 11, 27, pp. 24552-24559
A waterborne, UV-blocking, and visually transparent nanocomposite coating was formulated with ZnO nanoparticles and 2-hydroxyethyl cellulose (HEC). The coating is highly effective (<5% UV and ∼65% visible transmittance), and the film thickness (0.2–2.5 μm) is ∼100 times thinner than the conventional coatings of similar UV-blocking performance. The superior properties are due to the fractal structures of ZnO nanoparticles assembled within the HEC matrix, revealed by scanning electron microscopy and small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS). Changing the binder to 2-hydroxyethyl starch (HES) diminishes the UV-blocking performance, as ZnO nanoparticles form dense globular aggregates, with an aggregation number measured by SAXS 3 orders of magnitude larger than the HEC coating. Since HEC and HES share the same repeating glucose unit in the polymer backbone, it suggests that the conformational characteristics of the binder polymer have a strong influence on the nanoparticle aggregation, which plays a key role in determining the optical performance. Similar structures were achieved with TiO2 nanoparticles. This study not only offers a cost-effective and readily scalable method to fabricate transparent UV-blocking coating but also demonstrates that the unique fractal aggregation structures in a nanocomposite material can provide high performance and functionality without fully dispersing the nanoparticles.