Nanoscale Metal Oxide Semiconductors for Gas Sensing

A report describes the fabrication and testing of nanoscale metal oxide semiconductors (MOSs) for gas and chemical sensing. This document examines the relationship between processing approaches and resulting sensor behavior. This is a core question related to a range of applications of nanotechnology and a number of different synthesis methods are discussed: thermal evaporation-condensation (TEC), controlled oxidation, and electrospinning. Advantages and limitations of each technique are listed, providing a processing overview to developers of nanotechnology-based systems.

The results of a significant amount of testing and comparison are also described. A comparison is made between SnO2, ZnO, and TiO2 single-crystal nanowires and SnO2 polycrystalline nanofibers for gas sensing. The TEC-synthesized single-crystal nanowires offer uniform crystal surfaces, resistance to sintering, and their synthesis may be done apart from the substrate. The TEC-produced nanowire response is very low, even at the operating temperature of 200 °C. In contrast, the electrospun polycrystalline nanofiber response is high, suggesting that junction potentials are superior to a continuous surface depletion layer as a transduction mechanism for chemisorption. Using a catalyst deposited upon the surface in the form of nanoparticles yields dramatic gains in sensitivity for both nanostructured, one-dimensional forms.

For the nanowire materials, the response magnitude and response rate uniformly increase with increasing operating temperature. Such changes are interpreted in terms of accelerated surface diffusional processes, yielding greater access to chemisorbed oxygen species and faster dissociative chemisorption, respectively. Regardless of operating temperature, sensitivity of the
nanofibers is a factor of 10 to 100 greater than that of nanowires with the same catalyst for the same test condition. In summary, nanostructure appears critical to governing the reactivity, as measured by electrical resistance of these SnO2 nanomaterials towards reducing gases. With regard to the sensitivity of the different nascent nanostructures, the electrospun nanofibers appear preferable.

This work was done by Gary W. Hunter, Laura Evans, and Jennifer C. Xu of Glenn Research Center; Randy L. Vander Wal of Penn State University; and Gordon M. Berger and Michael J. Kulis of the National Center for Space Exploration Research. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Materials & Coatings category.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steven Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. Refer to LEW-18492-1.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).

Nanoscale Metal Oxide Semiconductors for Gas Sensing (reference LEW-18492-1) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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