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Layer-by-layer Assembly of Nanobrick Wall Ultrathin Transparent Gas Barrier Films
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Thin layers with high barrier to oxygen and other gases are a key component to many packaging applications, such as flexible electronics, food, and pharmaceuticals. Vapor deposited thin films provide significant gas barrier, but are prone to cracking when flexed, require special, non-ambient processing environments, and can involve complex fabrication when layered with polymers. The addition of clay into polymers can enhance barrier properties relative to the neat polymer; however, these composites are subject to clay aggregation at high loadings, which leads to increased opacity and random platelet alignment that ultimately reduce barrier improvement. Layer-by-layer (LbL) assembly is capable of producing thin films that exhibit super gas barrier properties, while remaining flexible and completely transparent. Montmorillonite (MMT) clay and branched polyethylenimine (PEI) were deposited via LbL assembly to create gas barrier films that can be tailored by altering the pH of the PEI deposition solution or the concentration of the MMT suspension. Films grow linearly as a function of layers deposited, where increasing PEI pH increases spacing between clay layers and increasing MMT concentration increases thin film clay content. An oxygen transmission rate (OTR) below the detection limit of commercial instrumentation (< 0.005 cm3/m2•day•atm) is observed after 70 layers of 0.2 wt % MMT or 24 layers of 2 wt % MMT are deposited with pH 10 PEI onto 179 µm thick poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) film. Three-component films of PEI, poly(acrylic acid) (PAA), and MMT grow exponentially as a function of PEI/PAA/PEI/MMT quadlayers deposited. A transparent, ultrathin film of only four quadlayers deposited onto PET exhibits the lowest oxygen permeability ever reported for any thin film material, at only 51 nm thick. Finally, the first example of LbL assembly using large aspect ratio vermiculite (VMT) clay was performed. PEI/VMT films grow linearly as a function of layers deposited and exhibit 95 % light transmission with 97 wt % VMT. The barrier of these films is due to the highly aligned nanobrick wall structure that creates a tortuous path for permeating molecules. Coupling high flexibility, transparency, and barrier, these coatings are good candidates for a variety of packaging applications.
Priolo, Morgan Alexander (2012). Layer-by-layer Assembly of Nanobrick Wall Ultrathin Transparent Gas Barrier Films. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from