This technology provides on-demand thermal curing of polymer systems using nanoscale materials to efficiently convert light to heat. The conversion results in extreme temperatures near the nanoscale materials, which greatly enhances the rate of polymerization, achieving billion-fold enhancements of polymerization rates while preserving desired chemical control over the final products.
In order to realize the full potential of additive manufacturing (AM) for any market, it is important to have access to a full complement of materials. Plastics are one important area of traditional manufacture and thus an important target for AM. Our work focuses on one class of plastics—thermally cured thermoset polymers. This class of materials is made from dense networks of intertwined polymer chains which provide excellent thermal and chemical stability with properties highly desirable for industrial, medical, and defense applications. However, the means of curing thermosets has not been readily adapted for the rapid start-stop curing cycles needed for AM. Our technology provides a new method for curing thermoset materials, allowing thermosets to be used for AM. This technology utilizes the photothermal effect of nanoparticles to provide the rapid heating and cooling cycles required for precise control over polymerization in time and space, enabling additive manufacturing of thermally cured thermosets. To date, we have demonstrated that our technology provides billion-fold enhancement of the curing rate for PDMS, allowing us to cure these systems on timescales on the order of microseconds.