Liquid-phase exfoliation, the use of a sheared liquid to delaminate graphite into few-layer graphene, is a promising technique for the large-scale production of graphene. However, the microscale and nanoscale fluid-structure processes controlling the exfoliation are not fully understood. Here, we perform non-equilibrium molecular dynamics simulations of a defect-free graphite nanoplatelet suspended in a shear flow and measure the critical shear rate γ̇c needed for the exfoliation to occur. We compare γ̇c for different solvents, including water and N-methyl-pyrrolidone, and nanoplatelets of different lengths. Using a theoretical model based on a balance between the work done by viscous shearing forces and the change in interfacial energies upon layer sliding, we are able to predict the critical shear rates γ̇c measured in simulations. We find that an accurate prediction of the exfoliation of short graphite nanoplatelets is possible only if both hydrodynamic slip and the fluid forces on the graphene edges are considered and if an accurate value of the solid–liquid surface energy is used. The commonly used “geometric-mean” approximation for the solid–liquid energy leads to grossly incorrect predictions.

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