Smart cellulose/graphene-based composites readily available for multiple sensing applications


Recently, fabrication of functional and smart materials using green preparation techniques and renewable resources has attracted significant attention among researchers and scientists. For instance, cellulose has been widely used in the preparation of functional materials as a robust and stable carrier. It is a natural polymer that exhibits excellent properties regarding chemical stability, renewability and biodegradability among others. Moreover, nanostructured inorganic materials are employed in the modification of the cellulose matrix. As such, various functional materials based on nanomaterial-integrated cellulose have been fabricated through mixing and coating processes. These materials have henceforth been used in numerous applications including sensors and electronic devices.

Presently, graphene has opened ways for the design of advanced smart materials owing to its unique properties. Graphene can be prepared by reducing its precursor graphene oxide. Graphene oxide possesses numerous functional groups like hydroxyls that improve its dispersion in polar environments. Consequently, cellulose solvents have also been used in the fabrication of graphene oxide composites. Even though the presence of graphene oxide improves the mechanical and thermal properties of cellulose-based materials, their practical applications are still limited due to lack of electrical conductivity.

To this note, researchers have been looking for simple methods to fabricate conductive graphene-based cellulose nanocomposites with stable morphology. Scientists at Leibniz-Institut für Polymerforschung Dresden, Germany: Yian Chen (PhD candidate), Dr. Petra Pötschke, Dr. Jürgen Pionteck and Professor Brigitte Voit in collaboration with Professor Haisong Qi at South China University of Technology fabricated cellulose/ reduced graphene oxide (rGO) nanocomposite films by homogeneous dispersion of graphene oxide in alkaline-urea aqueous solution of cellulose. This was immediately followed by chemical reduction of graphene oxide using environmental friendly vitamin C forming conducting cellulose films. Eventually, they investigated the properties, structure and sensing application of the resultant materials. Their work is published in Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

The authors observed that the resultant composite film exhibited good electrical, thermal and mechanical properties. Increasing the content of rGO in the cellulose films resulted in a significant increase in the conductivity of the composite films. Consequently, the cellulose films can be used as multifunctional sensor materials because they were capable of responding to various external stimuli like stress/strain, temperature and humidity. The combination of wide ranges of humidity, temperature and strain sensing is the unique characteristics of such composites, reported here for the first time.

The research team successfully developed a sustainable, flexible and lightweight material. Due to their accuracy and efficiency, these cellulose films are capable of detecting human (hand) motion and breathing cycles. Their sensitivity to liquids is determined by the type of liquid, the ion concentration and the liquid temperature. This can extend applications of cellulose composite films in other fields such as medicine, catalysis and optoelectronics. The present functional groups permit tailoring the chemical and electrical behavior of rGO/cellulose composites. Therefore, the study will advance the design and fabrication of smart materials based on graphene oxides and cellulose.

Smart cellulose/graphene-based composites readily available for multiple sensing applications - Advances in Engineering

About the author

Dr.-Ing. Petra Pötschke is Head of the Department of Functional Nanocomposites and Blends at Leibniz-Institut für Polymerforschung (IPF) Dresden e.V., Germany. She received her doctoral degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1988 from the Technische Universität Dresden, Germany. Since then, she has held several positions as a research scientist in the field of polymers, polymer blends, and composites at the Institute of Technology of Polymers and the Institute of Polymer Research in Dresden, Germany. Based on a grant from the Max-Kade Foundation, New York she worked in 2000-01 with Prof. Donald R. Paul in the University of Texas at Austin (USA) at the Chemical Engineering Department on multiphase blend systems. Since then she has focused on CNT filled composites.

Dr. Pötschke has published more than 270 papers; her publications have an h-index of 59 (Web of Science). In 2011 she edited a book on Polymer-Carbon Nanotube Composites (Woodhead Publishing) with Tony McNally. In 2018, she received the title “Nanochair Visiting Professor” from the Mahatma Ghandi University in Kottayam, India. She is a member of the editorial boards of the journals Polymer and Functional Composite Materials.

About the author

Yian Chen is currently a PhD student at Leibniz-Institut für Polymerforschung (IPF) Dresden e.V., Germany under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Brigitte Voit and guidance of Dr. Petra Pötschke and Dr. Jürgen Pionteck. He received his B.S. degree in Polymer Material Processing Engineering from Sichuan University in 2016. His research is focused on synthesis and characterization of novel functional materials based on cellulose and graphene.

About the author

Prof. Dr. Brigitte Voit received her PhD in Macromolecular Chemistry in 1990 from University Bayreuth, Germany, in the field of photoactive polymers. After postdoctoral work in 1991/1992 at Eastman Kodak in Rochester, USA, in the field of hyperbranched polymers, she joined Technische Universität München continuing the work on dendritic polymers and she received her habilitation degree in Macromolecular Chemistry in 1996. In 1997 Brigitte Voit was appointed head of the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry at Leibniz-Institut für Polymerforschung (IPF) Dresden e.V., as well as full professor for “Organic Chemistry of Polymers“ at Technische Universität Dresden (TUD). In addition, since 2002, she is heading the IPF Dresden, a large public research institute hosting about 480 people, as Scientific Director.

Her major research interest is in the synthesis of new functional polymer architectures by various synthetic approaches covering topics like dendritic polymers, hydrogels, functional block and graft copolymers, as well as biofunctional polymers and functional polymers for optoelectronic applications, documented in more than 500 peer-reviewed publications. For the period 2014/2015 Brigitte Voit had been president of the European Polymer Federation and in 2015 she was awarded with membership in acatech (Akademie der Technikwissenschaften).

About the author

Dr. Jűrgen Pionteck received his PhD in Chemistry from Technische Universität Dresden in 1988. Under the guidance of Prof. K. Schwetlick he worked on the development of organophosphorus compounds as primary antioxidants. Starting at the Leibniz-Institut für Polymerforschung (IPF) Dresden e.V. in 1988, where he was head of the Polymer Blend Department from 1990 till 1998, he became interested in polymer synthesis, processing and characterization, focussing on polymer blends and composites, blend interfaces and thermodynamics and nowadays on functional composites, suitable for sensor applications, capacitors or thermoelectric material. In 1991/92 he completed a one year research stay with Prof. W. J. MacKnight at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA.

He is co-author of more than 220 papers and book chapters, co-editor of “Handbook of Antistatics” and co-author of the Landolt-Börnstein Group VIII Volume 6A2 “Thermodynamic Properties – pVT-Data and Thermal Properties”. Beside others, he was awarded in 2003 with the Honorary Medal of the Polymer Institute Bratislava and in 2011 and 2015 as Erudite Visiting Professor by the government of Kerala, India.

About the author

Prof. Dr. Haisong Qi received the PhD in Polymer Chemistry and Physics from Wuhan University in 2008. He had worked in the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Macromolecular Chemistry in Friedrich-Schiller University of Jena (Germany) as a Postdoctoral Research Follow from 2008 to 2011. He then became a scientific collaborator in the Department of Composite Materials at the Leibniz-Institut für Polymerforschung (IPF) Dresden e.V., and worked there until the end of 2016. After worked in Germany for about 8 years, he returned to China and got a full professor position in State Key Laboratory of Pulp and Paper Engineering, South China University of Technology.

Now his research is mainly focused on fundamental and applied research of cellulose-based materials and functional materials, including cellulose green solvents, cellulose regenerated materials (fibers, films and aerogels), cellulose derivatives, cellulose-based nanocomposites and smart materials.


Chen, Y., Pötschke, P., Pionteck, J., Voit, B., & Qi, H. (2018). Smart cellulose/graphene composites fabricated by in situ chemical reduction of graphene oxide for multiple sensing applications.. Journal of Materials Chemistry A, 6(17), 7777-7785.

Go To Journal of Material Chemistry A

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