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Charge generation, charge transport, and residual charge in the electrospinning of polymers: A review of issues and complications
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Electrospinning has become a widely implemented technique for the generation of nonwoven mats that are useful in tissue engineering and filter applications. The overriding factor that has contributed to the popularity of this method is the ease with which fibers with submicron diameters can be produced. Fibers on that size scale are comparable to protein filaments that are observed in the extracellular matrix. The apparatus and procedures for conducting electrospinning experiments are ostensibly simple. While it is rarely reported in the literature on this topic, any experience with this method of fiber spinning reveals substantial ambiguities in how the process can be controlled to generate reproducible results. The simplicity of the procedure belies the complexity of the physical processes that determine the electrospinning process dynamics. In this article, three process domains and the physical domain of charge interaction are identified as important in electrospinning: (a) creation of charge carriers, (b) charge transport, (c) residual charge. The initial event that enables electrospinning is the generation of region of excess charge in the fluid that is to be electrospun. The electrostatic forces that develop on this region of charged fluid in the presence of a high potential result in the ejection of a fluid jet that solidifies into the resulting fiber. The transport of charge from the chargesolution to the grounded collection device produces some of the current which is observed. That transport can occur by the fluid jet and through the atmosphere surrounding the electrospinning apparatus. Charges that are created in the fluid that are not dissipated remain in the solidified fiber as residual charges. The physics of each of these domains in the electrospinning process is summarized in terms of the current understanding, and possible sources of ambiguity in the implementation of this technique are indicated. Directions for future research to further articulate the behavior of the electrospinning process are suggested.
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