Defects drive the tribocharging strength of PTFE: An ab-initio study


If polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), commonly known as Teflon, is put into contact and rubbed against another material, almost surely it will be more effective than its counterpart in collecting negative charges. This simple, basic property is captured by the so called triboelectric series, where PTFE ranks extremely high, and that qualitatively orders materials in terms of their ability to electrostatically charge upon contact and rubbing. However, while classifying materials, the series does not provide an explanation of their triboelectric strength, besides a loose correlation with the workfunction. Indeed, despite being an extremely familiar process, known from centuries, tribocharging is still elusive and not fully understood. In this work we employ density functional theory to look for the origin of PTFE tribocharging strength. We study how charge transfers when pristine or defective PTFE is put in contact with different clean and oxidized metals. Our results show the important role played by defects in enhancing charge transfer. Interestingly and unexpectedly our results show that negatively charged chains are more stable than neutral ones, if slightly bent. Indeed deformations can be easily promoted in polymers as PTFE, especially in tribological contacts. These results suggest that, in designing materials in view of their triboelectric properties, the characteristics of their defects could be a performance determining factor

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