We investigated the heat transfer behavior of thermally conductive networks with one-dimensional carbon materials to design effective heat transfer pathways for hybrid filler systems of polymer matrix composites. Nano-sized few-walled carbon nanotubes (FWCNTs) and micro-sized mesophase pitch-based carbon fibers (MPCFs) were used as the thermally conductive materials. The bulk density and thermal conductivity of the FWCNT films increased proportionally with the ultrasonication time due to the enhanced dispersibility of the FWCNTs in an ethanol solvent. The ultrasonication-induced densification of the FWCNT films led to the effective formation of filler-to-filler connections, resulting in improved thermal conductivity. The thermal conductivity of the FWCNT-MPCF hybrid films was proportional to the MPCF content (maximum thermal conductivity at an MPCF content of 60 wt %), indicating the synergistic effect on the thermal conductivity enhancement. Moreover, the MPCF-to-MPCF heat transfer pathways in the FWCNT-MPCF hybrid films were the most effective in achieving high thermal conductivity due to the smaller interfacial area and shorter heat transfer pathway of the MPCFs. The FWCNTs could act as thermal bridges between neighboring MPCFs for effective heat transfer. Furthermore, the incorporation of Ag nanoparticles of approximately 300 nm into the FWCNT-MPCF hybrid film dramatically enhanced the thermal conductivity, which was closely related to a decreased thermal interfacial resistance at the intersection points between the materials. Epoxy-based composites loaded with the FWCNTs, MPCFs, FWCNT-MPCF hybrids, and FWCNT-MPCF-Ag hybrid fillers were also fabricated. A similar trend in thermal conductivity was observed in the polymer matrix composite with carbon-based hybrid films.
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