Rational design of electrically conductive polymer composites for electronic packaging
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Electrically conductive polymer composites, i.e. polymers filled with conductive fillers, may display a broad range of electrical properties. A rational design of fillers, filler surface chemistry and filler loading can tune the electrical properties of the composites to meet the requirements of specific applications. In this dissertation, two studies were discussed. In the first study, highly conductive composites with electrical conductivity close to that of pure metals were developed as environmentally-friendly alternatives to tin/lead solder in electronic packaging. Conventional conductive composites with silver fillers have an electrical conductivity 1~2 orders of magnitude lower than that of pure, even at filler loadings as high as 80-90 wt.%. It is found that the low conductivity of the polymer composites mainly results from the thin layer of insulating lubricant on commercial silver flakes. In this work, by modifying the functional groups in polymer backbones, the lubricant layer on silver could be chemically reduced in-situ to generate silver nanoparticles. Furthermore, these nanoparticles could sinter to form metallurgical bonds during the curing of the polymer matrix. This resulted in a significant electrical conductivity enhancement up to 10 times, without sacrificing the processability of the composite or adding extraneous steps. This method was also applied to develop highly flexible/stretchable conductors as building block for flexible/stretchable electronics. In the second study, a moderately conductive carbon/polymer composite was developed for use in sensors to monitor the thermal aging of insulation components in nuclear power plants. During thermal aging, the polymer matrix of this composite shrank while the carbon fillers remained intact, leading to a slight increase in filler loading and a substantial decrease in the resistivity of the sensors. The resistivity change was used to correlate with the aging time and to predict the need for maintenance of the insulation component according to Arrhenius’ equation. This aging sensor realized real-time, non-destructive monitoring capability for the aging of the target insulation component for the first time.