Enhanced electrical conductivity and piezoresistive sensing in multi-wall carbon nanotubes/polydimethylsiloxane nanocomposites via the construction of a self-segregated structure
Formation of highly conductive networks is essential for achieving flexible conductive polymer composites (CPCs) with high force sensitivity and high electrical conductivity. In this study, self-segregated structures were constructed in polydimethylsiloxane/multi-wall carbon nanotube (PDMS/MWCNT) nanocomposites, which then exhibited high piezoresistive sensitivity and low percolation threshold without sacrificing their mechanical properties. First, PDMS was cured and pulverized into 40–60 mesh-sized particles (with the size range of 250–425 μm) as an optimum self-segregated phase to improve the subsequent electrical conductivity. Then, the uncured PDMS/MWCNT base together with the curing agent was mixed with the abovementioned PDMS particles, serving as the segregated phase. Finally, the mixture was cured again to form the PDMS/MWCNT nanocomposites with self-segregated structures. The morphological evaluation indicated that MWCNTs were located in the second cured three-dimensional (3D) continuous PDMS phase, resulting in an ultralow percolation threshold of 0.003 vol% MWCNTs. The nanocomposites with self-segregated structures with 0.2 vol% MWCNTs achieved a high electrical conductivity of 0.003 S m−1, whereas only 4.87 × 10−10 S m−1 was achieved for the conventional samples with 0.2 vol% MWCNTs. The gauge factor GF of the self-segregated samples was 7.4-fold that of the conventional samples at 30% compression strain. Furthermore, the self-segregated samples also showed higher compression modulus and strength as compared to the conventional samples. These enhanced properties were attributed to the construction of 3D self-segregated structures, concentrated distribution of MWCNTs, and strong interfacial interaction between the segregated phase and the continuous phase with chemical bonds formed during the second curing process. These self-segregated structures provide a new insight into the fabrication of elastomers with high electrical conductivity and piezoresistive sensitivity for flexible force-sensitive materials.