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Geometry dependent performance of bucky gel actuators: Increasing operating frequency by miniaturization



Bucky gel actuators are one of the most promising type of electrochemical actuators based on carbon nanotubes (CNTs). They are lightweight, they are able to work in air without any liquid electrolyte and require just few volts to operate. In order to find real world applications where bucky gel actuators can outperform conventional motors, there are still some issues to be addressed. One key aspect in CNT-based electrochemical actuators is that their actuation speed is limited by the ability of charging and discharging the device without exceeding the electrochemical stability window of the electrolyte. This speed is macroscopically related with the product of the resistance and the capacitance of the equivalent circuit (circuit time constant), and with the ion diffusion speed inside the active electrodes. To enhance the actuator performance it is necessary to increase the ion drift current in the electrolyte avoiding to significantly raise the voltage at the electrodes and shorten the ion path necessary to charge the bucky gel electrodes. By proper material processing, we have successfully addressed this issue. A reduced thickness of the actuators to one third of the original size results in a one order of magnitude increase both of the strain at higher frequencies and of the maximum operating frequency.