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Rate Limits In Conducting Polymers

Tina Shoa, John D. Madden, Chi Wah Eddie Fok, Tissaphern Mirfakhrai

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Conducting polymer actuators are of interest in applications where low voltage and high work density are beneficial. These actuators are not particularly fast however, with time constants normally being greater than 1 second. Strain in these actuators is proportional to charge, with the rate of charging being found to limit the speed of actuation. This rate of charging is in turn limited by a number of factors, the dominant factor depending on the actuator and cell geometry, the potential range, the composition and the timescale of interest. Mechanisms that slow response can be as simple as the RC charging time arising from the actuator capacitance and the series resistances of the electrolyte and the contacts, or may involve polymer electronic or ionic conductivities, which can in turn be functions of potential. Diffusion can also be a factor. An approach is presented to help estimate the relative magnitudes of these rate limiting factors, thereby enabling actuator designs to evaluated and optimized for a given application. The general approach discussed is also useful for analyzing rate limits in carbon nanotube actuators and other related technologies.