The sensitivity of piezoelectric/polymer composite materials is inversely proportional to their dielectric permittivity. Introducing a cellular structure into these composites can decrease the permittivity while enhancing their mechanical flexibility. Foaming of highly filled polymer composites is however challenging. Polymers filled with high content of dense additives such as lead zirconate titanate (PZT) exhibit significantly decreased physical foaming ability. This can be attributed to difficulty in gas diffusion, decreased fraction of the matrix available, the reduced number of nucleated cells and the difficulty in cell growth. Here, both CO2 foaming and Expancel foaming were examined as potential methods to fabricate low-density thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU)/ PZT composite foams. While composites containing up to only 10vol.% PZT could be foamed using CO2, Expancel foaming could successfully yield highly-expanded composite foams containing up to 40vol.% (80wt.%) PZT. Dispersed Expancel particles in TPU/PZT composites acted as the blowing agent, activated by subjecting the samples to high temperatures using a hot press. Using Expancel, foams with expansion ratios of up to 9 were achieved. However, expansion ratios of greater than 4 were not of interest due to their poor structural integrity. The density of solid samples ranged from 1.8 to 3.3−3 and dropped by a maximum of 80%, even for the highest PZT content, at an expansion ratio of 4. As the expansion increased, the dielectric permittivity of both CO2-foamed and Expancel-foamed TPU/PZT composites decreased significantly (up to 7.5 times), while the dielectric loss and electrical conductivity were affected only slightly. This combination of properties is suitable for high-sensitivity and flexible piezoelectric applications.

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