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Keywords:

  • block ionomer;
  • electroactive polymer;
  • ionic polymer–metal composite;
  • ion transport;
  • polyelectrolyte;
  • stimulti-responsive polymer

Abstract

Ionic polymer–metal composites (IPMCs) represent an important class of stimuli-responsive polymers that are capable of bending upon application of an electric potential. Conventional IPMCs, prepared with Nafion and related polyelectrolytes, often suffer from processing challenges, relatively low actuation levels and back relaxation during actuation. In this study, we examine and compare the effects of fabrication and solvent on the actuation behavior of a block ionomer with a sulfonated midblock and glassy endblocks that are capable of self-organizing and thus stabilizing a molecular network in the presence of a polar solvent. Unlike Nafion, this material can be readily dissolved and cast from solution to yield films that vary in thickness and exhibit enormous solvent uptake. Cycling the initial chemical deposition of Pt on the surfaces of swollen films (the compositing process) increases the extent to which the electrodes penetrate the films, thereby improving contact along the polymer/electrode interface. The maximum bending actuation measured from IPMCs prepared with different solvents is at least comparable, but is often superior, to that reported for conventional IPMCs, without evidence of back relaxation. An unexpected characteristic observed here is that the actuation direction can be solvent regulated. Our results confirm that this block ionomer constitutes an attractive alternative for use in IPMCs and their associated applications.