Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have pioneered a 3D printed plasmonic plastic – a composite material with intriguing optical properties. This development heralds 3D printed optical hydrogen sensors, pivotal for advancing green energy and industry sectors.
Previously, plasmonic metal nanoparticles, known for their potent interaction with light, were primarily utilized on flat surfaces and necessitated complex cleanroom lab production. However, this multi-year venture aimed at manufacturing 3D plasmonic objects sustainably, leveraging the inherent malleability and cost-effectiveness of plastics, coupled with 3D printing technology.
The resulting plasmonic plastic comprises a polymer and colloidal metal nanoparticles, enabling 3D printing of objects ranging from a fraction of a gram to several kilograms. The focus was on fabricating plasmonic sensors capable of detecting hydrogen, pioneering a novel optical sensor realm based on plasmons.
“Different types of sensors are needed to speed up development in medicine, or the use of hydrogen as an alternative carbon-free fuel,” said Christoph Langhammer, professor at the Department of Physics, who led the project.
“The interplay between the polymer and nanoparticles is the key factor when these sensors are fabricated from plasmonic plastic. In sensor applications, this type of plastic not only enables additive manufacturing, as well as scalability in the material manufacturing process, but has the additional important function of filtering out all molecules except the smallest ones – in our application, these are the hydrogen molecules we want to detect. This prevents the sensor from deactivating over time,”
Interestingly, the sensor’s metal nanoparticles change color upon hydrogen contact, providing immediate alerts if hydrogen levels escalate, essential for managing this potentially flammable gas.
This research not only unlocks the potential for scalable sensor production but also expands the horizon for plasmonic plastics in diverse fields like healthcare, wearable technology, and perhaps even the realms of art and fashion.
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