During their synthesis, multi-walled carbon nanotubes can be aligned and impregnated in a polymer matrix to form an electrically conductive and flexible nanocomposite with high backing density. The material exhibits the highest reported electrical conductivity of CNT-epoxy composites (350 S/m). Here, we show how conductive atomic force microscopy can be used to study the electrical transport mechanism in order to explain the enhanced electrical properties of the composite. The high spatial resolution and versatility of the technique allows us to further decouple the two main contributions to the electrical transport: (1) the intrinsic resistance of the tube and (2) the tunneling resistance due to nanoscale gaps occurring between the epoxy-coated tubes along the composite. The results show that the material behaves as a conductive polymer, and the electrical transport is governed by electron tunneling at interconnecting CNT-polymer junctions. We also point out the theoretical formulation of the nanoscale electrical transport between the AFM tip and the sample in order to derive both the composite conductivity and the CNT intrinsic properties. The enhanced electrical properties of the composite are attributed to high degree of alignment, the CNT purity, and the large tube diameter which lead to low junction resistance. By controlling the tube diameter and using other polymers, the nanocomposite electrical conductivity can be improved.
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