Energy harvesting by capillary condensation

This work reports an innovative humidity-driven actuation system based on Bangham effect using simple nanoporous sol-gel silica thin films as humidity responsive materials. Bilayer shaped actuators, consisting on a humidity-sensitive active nanostructured silica film deposited on a polymeric substrate (Kapton) were demonstrated as an original mean to convert water molecule adsorption and capillary condensation in usable mechanical work. Reversible silica surface energy modifications by water adsorption and the energy produced by the rigid silica film contraction, induced by water capillary condensation in mesopores, were finely controlled and used as energy sources. The influence of the film nanostructure (microporosity, mesoporosity) and thickness, and of the polymeric support thickness, on the actuation force, on the movement speed, and on the amplitude of displacement are clearly evidenced and discussed. We show that the global mechanical response of such silica-based actuators can be easily adjusted to fabricate a tailor-made actuation systems triggered by humidity variation. This first insight in hard ceramic stimulus responsive materials may open the door toward new generation of surface chemistry driven actuation systems.

Figure 1- Scheme of the dynamic water absorption actuation mechanism  in microporous (a) and mesoporous (b) responsive silica thin films actuators.

Figure 2-  Proof of concept of the humidity-driven actuator: a bilayer film (50 μm thick polyimide layer combined to a 110 ± 5 nm xerogel silica film) is placed on a tilted (15°) rack and pinion in a humidity (RH) controlled chamber for RH oscillating between 5% and 85%.

Related publications

  • Converting Water Adsorption and Capillary Condensation in Useable Forces with Simple Porous Inorganic Thin Films

    M. Boudot, H. Elettro & D. Grosso

    ACS Nano, 10(11):10031-10040 (2016)

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