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Proceedings Paper

Electrolytic phase transformation actuators
Author(s): Colin G. Cameron; Michael S. Freund
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Paper Abstract

The emerging field of materials-based actuation continues to be the focus of considerable research due to its inherent scalability and its promise to drive devices in ways that cannot be realized with conventional mechanical actuator strategies. Current approaches include electrochemically responsive conducting polymers, capacitance-driven carbon nanotubes actuators, pH responsive hydrogels, ionic polymer metal composites, electric field responsive elastomers, and field-driven electrostrictive polymers. However, simple electrochemical processes that lead to phase transformations, particularly from liquid to gas, have been virtually ignored. Although a few specialized applications have been proposed, the nature of the reactions and their implication for design, performance, and widespread applicability have not been addressed. Herein we report an electrolytic phase transformation (EPT) actuator, a device capable of producing strains surpassing 136,000% and stresses beyond 200 MPa. These performance characteristics are several orders of magnitude greater than those reported for other materials and could potentially compete with existing commercial hydraulic systems. Furthermore, unlike other materials-based systems that rely on bimorph structures to translate infinitesimally small volume changes into observable deflections, this device can direct all of its output towards linear motion. We show here that an unoptimized actuator prototype can produce volume and pressure changes close to the theoretically predicted values, with maximum stress (70 kPa) limited only by the mechanical strength of the apparatus. Expansion is very rapid and scales with applied current density. Retraction depends on the catalytic nature of the electrode, and state-of-the-art commercial fuel cell electrodes should allow rates surpassing 0.9 mL's-1.cm-2 and 370 kPa's-1.cm-2. We anticipate that this approach will provide a new direction for producing scalable, low-weight, high performance actuators that will be useful in a broad range of applications.

Paper Details

Date Published: 25 July 2003
PDF: 7 pages
Proc. SPIE 4878, First Jet Propulsion Laboratory In Situ Instruments Workshop, (25 July 2003); doi: 10.1117/12.520547
Show Author Affiliations
Colin G. Cameron, California Institute of Technology (United States)
Michael S. Freund, California Institute of Technology (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 4878:
First Jet Propulsion Laboratory In Situ Instruments Workshop
Gregory H. Bearman; Patricia M. Beauchamp, Editor(s)

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