A family of polymer/ carbon films has been developed for use as sensory films in electronic noses for detecting SO2 gas at concentrations as low as 1 part per million (ppm). Most previously reported SO2 sensors cannot detect SO2 at concentrations below tens of ppm; only a few can detect SO2 at 1 ppm. Most of the sensory materials used in those sensors (especially inorganic ones that include solid oxide electrolytes, metal oxides, and cadmium sulfide) must be used under relatively harsh conditions that include operation and regeneration at temperatures >100 °C. In contrast, the present films can be used to detect 1 ppm of SO2 at typical operating temperatures between 28 and 32 °C and can be regenerated at temperatures between 36 and 40 °C.

This Copolymer is a member of the family of polymers suitable for use as components of polymer/carbon composite films for sensing SO2. The integers m and n can be chosen by formulation to be in a desired ratio:a typical ratio for the molecular structure shown here is n/m = 3/7.

The basic concept of making sensing films from polymer/ carbon composites is not new. The novelty of the present family of polymer/ carbon composites lies in formulating the polymer components of these composites specifically to optimize their properties for detecting SO2. First- principles quantum- mechanical calculations of the energies of binding of SO2 molecules to various polymer functionalities are used as a guide for selecting polymers and understanding the role of polymer functionalities in sensing.

The polymer used in the polymer-carbon composite is a copolymer of styrene derivative units with vinyl pyridine or substituted vinyl pyridine derivative units (see figure). To make a substituted vinyl pyridine for use in synthesizing such a polymer, poly(2-vinyl pyridine) that has been dissolved in methanol is reacted with 3-chloropropylamine that has been dissolved in a solution of methanol. The methanol is then removed to obtain the copolymer. Later, the copolymer can be dissolved in an appropriate solvent with a suspension of carbon black to obtain a mixture that can be cast and then dried to obtain a sensory film.

This work was done by Margie Homer, Margaret Ryan, Shiao-Pin Yen, Adam Kisor, April Jewell, Abhijit Shevade, Kenneth Manatt, Charles Taylor, Mario Blanco, and William Goddard of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

Innovative Technology Assets Management
Mail Stop 202-233
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena, CA 91109-8099
(818) 354-2240
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Refer to NPO-43761, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Special Polymer/Carbon Composite Films for Detecting SO2

(reference NPO-43761) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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