Investigation of Polymer–Plasticizer Blends as SH-SAW Sensor Coatings for Detection of Benzene in Water with High Sensitivity and Long-Term Stability
We report the first-ever direct detection of benzene in water at concentrations below 100 ppb (parts per billion) using acoustic wave (specifically, shear-horizontal surface acoustic wave, SH-SAW) sensors with plasticized polymer coatings. Two polymers and two plasticizers were studied as materials for sensor coatings. For each polymer–plasticizer combination, the influence of the mixing ratio of the blend on the sensitivity to benzene was measured and compared to commercially available polymers that were used for BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene) detection in previous work. After optimizing the coating parameters, the highest sensitivity and lowest detection limit for benzene were found for a 1.25 μm thick sensor coating of 17.5%-by-weight diisooctyl azelate-polystyrene on the tested acoustic wave device. The calculated detection limit was 45 ppb, with actual sensor responses to concentrations down to 65 ppb measured directly. Among the sensor coatings that showed good sensitivity to benzene, the best long-term stability was found for a 1.0 μm thick coating of 23% diisononyl cyclohexane-1,2-dicarboxylate-polystyrene, which was studied here because it is known to show no detectable leaching in water. The present work demonstrates that, by varying type of plasticizer, mixing ratio, and coating thickness, the mechanical and chemical properties of the coatings can be conveniently tailored to maximize analyte sorption and partial chemical selectivity for a given class of analytes as well as to minimize acoustic-wave attenuation in contact with an aqueous phase at the operating frequency of the sensor device.