3D-printed poly(vinylidene fluoride)/carbon nanotube composites as a tunable, low-cost chemical vapour sensing platform†
We report the production of flexible, highly-conductive poly(vinylidene fluoride) (PVDF) and multi-walled carbon nanotube (MWCNT) composites as filament feedstock for 3D printing. This account further describes, for the first time, fused deposition modelling (FDM) derived 3D-printed objects with chemiresistive properties in response to volatile organic compounds. The typically prohibitive thermal expansion and die swell characteristics of PVDF were minimized by the presence of MWCNTs in the composites enabling straightforward processing and printing. The nanotubes form a dispersed network as characterized by helium ion microscopy, contributing to excellent conductivity (∼3 × 10−2 S cm−1). The printed composites contain little residual metal particulate relative to parts from commercial PLA-nanocomposite material visualized by micro-X-ray computed tomography (μ-CT) and corroborated with thermogravimetric analysis. Printed sensing strips, with MWCNT loadings up to 15% mass, function as reversible vapour sensors with the strongest responses arising with organic compounds capable of readily intercalating and subsequently swelling the PVDF matrix (acetone and ethyl acetate). A direct correlation between MWCNT concentration and resistance change was also observed, with larger responses (up to 161% after 3 minutes) being generated with decreased MWCNT loadings. These findings highlight the utility of FDM printing in generating low-cost sensors that respond strongly and reproducibly to target vapours. Furthermore, the sensors can be easily printed in different geometries, expanding their utility to wearable form factors. The proposed formulation strategy may be tailored to sense diverse sets of vapour classes through structural modification of the polymer backbone and/or functionalization of the nanotubes within the composite.