3D Printing of Nanocomposites Allows Real-Time Monitoring of Liquids

3D Printing of Nanocomposites Allows Real-Time Monitoring of Liquids

Researchers at Polytechnique Montréal have developed a new 3D printing method that has allowed them to 3D print a material that can detect the presence of different liquids in real time. Professor Daniel Therriault and his team of researchers have combined carbon nanotubes in a thermoplastic polymer that has excellent conductivity, thanks to the inclusion of carbon nanotubes. The material can be 3D printed in filaments a hair’s breadth in diameter and the technique could be used to 3D print coatings for a wide range of objects.

The team first takes a polymer such as a thermoplastic and transforms it into a solution with a solvent. The porous solution then has carbon nanotubes added which combine and spread uniformly within the polymer. The resultant highly viscous nanocomposite liquid is used in a specially developed 3D printer. As the liquid leaves the nozzle of the printer it solidifies, allowing structures to be 3D printed that have near metal-like conductivity.

The team reports that they have used their new 3D printing technique to develop a compound that can be used to detect liquids, including oil. The potential applications are considerable. The geometry of the nanocomposite filaments can be adjusted and measures calibrated to allow the material to be used in sensors capable of detecting the electrical signatures of a wide range of liquids. The technique used to develop the material and print it in 3D are simple, yet the applications for this material are far reaching. In fact, one U.S. company is already in advanced stages of commercializing the material, which has now been protected with a patent by Professor Therriault.

The team says that they could print a coating for the connection points of pipelines, which are prone to spring leaks. If the coating is applied to those connections, it would be possible to detect a leak of liquid in real time. The material could get wet yet not trigger any signal; however, if the material came into contact with oil, an alarm could be triggered. If oil companies were to use the material, it would allow them to detect leaks almost instantly, greatly reducing costs – both financial and environmental. The material could be added to cloths which could determine the nature of the liquid spillage, alerting workers to toxic chemical spills.

The team’s paper – 3D Printing of Highly Conductive Nanocomposites for the Functional Optimization of Liquid Sensors – has recently been published in the journal Small. The article even gets pride of place on the cover due to the huge potential of Professor Therriault and his team’s discovery.

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