Journal article

Tuneable PTC effect in polymer-wax-carbon composite resistors

Purpose: The resistivity dependence on temperature of composite resistors made of carbon fillers dispersed in an organic matrix are known to be strongly affected by the matrix thermal expansion. High positive temperature coefficient (PTC) effects, i.e. essentially switching from resistive to quasi-insulating behaviour, can be caused by phase changes in the matrix and the assorted volume expansion, a behaviour that has been previously shown with both simple organic waxes and semicrystalline polymers. However, waxes become very liquid upon melting, possibly resulting in carbon sedimentation, and tuneability of semicrystalline polymers is limited. Approach: We therefore study a ternary polymer-wax-conductor (ethylcellulose-octadecanol-graphite) composite resistor system, where polymer and wax fuse to a viscous liquid upon heating, and re-solidify and separate by crystallisation of the wax upon cooling. Findings: It is shown that with appropriate formulation, the resulting resistors exhibit strong PTC effects, linked with the melting and crystallisation of the wax component. The behaviour somewhat depends on sample history, and notably cooling speed. Limitations: The phase equilibria and transformation kinetics of the polymer-wax system (including possible wax polymorphism), as well as the exact mechanism of the conductivity transition, remain to be investigated. Originality/value: As many compatible polymer-wax systems with different melting/solidification behaviours are available, ternary polymer-wax-conductor composite PTC resistors allow a high tuneability of properties. Moreover, the high viscosity in the liquid state should largely avoid the sedimentation issues present with binary wax-conductor systems.

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