Real-time detection of metal ions using conjugated polymer composite papers†
Cellulose, a natural polymeric material, has widespread technical applications because of its inherent structural rigidity and high surface area. As a conjugated polymer, polypyrrole shows practical potential for a diverse and promising range of future technologies. Here, we demonstrate a strategy for the real-time detection and removal of metal ions with polypyrrole/cellulose (PPCL) composite papers in solution. Simply, the conjugated polymer papers had different chemical/physical properties by applying different potentials to them, which resulted in differentiable response patterns and adsorption efficiencies for individual metal ions. First, large-area PPCL papers with a diameter of 5 cm were readily obtained via vapor deposition polymerization. The papers exhibited both mechanical flexibility and robustness, in which polypyrrole retained its redox property perfectly. The ability of the PPCL papers to recognize metal ions was examined in static and flow cells, in which real-time current change was monitored at five different applied potentials (+1, +0.5, 0, −0.5, and −1 V vs. Ag/AgCl). Distinguishable signals in the PPCL paper responses were observed for individual metal ions through principal component analysis. Particularly, the PPCL papers yielded unique signatures for three metal ions, Hg(II), Ag(I), and Cr(III), even in a real sample, groundwater. The sorption of metal ions by PPCL papers was examined in the flow system. The PPCL papers had a greatly superior adsorption efficiency for Hg(II) compared to that of the other metal ions. With the strong demand for the development of inexpensive, flexible, light-weight, and environmentally friendly devices, the fascinating characteristics of these PPCL papers are likely to provide good opportunities for low-cost paper-based flexible or wearable devices.