Biomimetic Electrochemical Actuators Using 2D Materials

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology


Nature is replete with examples of smart composite materials which combine stimuli response materials with anisotropic fibrous scaffolds to create complex controlled motions such as the opening of pine cones and the orientation of sunflowers towards the sun. The development of new techniques that allow to assemble 2D materials in a controlled fashion offer new opportunities to create active devices and adaptive surfaces that emulate these natural systems. Here in particular, we aim at coupling graphene scaffolds to 2D Li-Ion battery anode materials which swell upon lithiation (e.g. MoS2). In this design, graphene flakes form an anisotropic and electrically conductive network to direct the motion of the anode swelling. By judiciously selecting these active materials, we aim at developing actuators which can deliver both high forces and complex displacements and are able to store electrochemical energy to deliver mechanical work.

Planned Impact

Our vision is to take graphene from a state of raw potential to a point where it can revolutionise flexible, wearable and transparent (opto)electronics, with a manifold return in innovation and exploitation. Such change in the paradigm of device manufacturing may revolutionise the global industry. The importance of graphene was recognised by the 2011 statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer launching the initiative that lead to the funding of the Cambridge Graphene Centre, where the proposed Graphene Technology CDT will be based. The aim is take graphene and related materials from "the British laboratory" to the "British factory floor". Not only does our vision align with this mandate, but it also exploits and strengthens several key areas of national importance where the UK has recognised excellence, such as printed electronics, energy and RF & Microwave Communications. Thus, we will strive for both economic impact, by stimulating new UK-manufactured high-value products, and societal benefits, by utilising graphene in potentially many areas including security, energy efficiency and quality of life.
The beneficiaries of our proposal will be of course the cohorts of students that will be trained every year, but will extend more widely. Considering the private sector, we have already indentified tens of companies that will benefit from our work. To achieve the final goal of graphene-technology, and to ease the transition to commercialisation, we have strong alignment with industry needs and engage them as project partners of the CDT: Dyson, Novalia, Plastic Logic, Nokia, Toshiba, BAE Systems, Aixtron, PEL, Nanocyl, IdTechEx, Philips, Dupont, CambridgeIP, Polyfect, Agilent, Nippon Kayaku, Victrex, IMEC. Many more are also partnering with the Cambridge Graphene Centre, and even more are expected to join and benefit directly or indirectly from our work. We consider the civilian sectors of healthcare, telecommunications, energy and homeland security to be those in which applications based on graphene can make significant impact on society at large. There are also applications in defence, especially in secure communications and radars. This will foster competitiveness and enhance quality of life. In particular, the proposed CDT will be of prime interest to industries dealing with the following devices and applications: 1. Mobile communications, wireless sensor networks, including wearable devices. 2. Nano-structured materials for light and microwave energy harvesting. 3. Active and reconfigurable microwave, terahertz and optical materials, including advanced antenna applications for radar and communications.
Policy-makers, within international, national, local government will also benefit. If the vision of graphene as the material of the 21st century is fulfilled, there will be a need for its properties, benefits, applications and advantageousness compared to current technology to be known by the relevant public bodies. For example, any new policy on energy saving, or mobile communications may need to include a reference to the benefits, or limitations, of graphene-based devices.
Economic resilience and innovation require post-doctoral researchers and students trained in new areas. We will contribute to increasing the talent pool for the future graphene industry. The proposed doctoral training centre will provide unique training to students in various aspects of graphene technology: from graphene nanotechnology to energy, RF/microwave and (opto)electronics. This will develop many skilled researchers over the project lifetime, who will stimulate the sustainability of UK graphene engineering research and future commercialisation opportunities across a variety of sectors.


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Description New understanding to the intercalation mechanisms for swelling in layered materials for electrochemical actuators.
Exploitation Route Better understanding of the swelling and intercalation in layered materials for applications in energy storage.
Sectors Chemicals,Energy