Ionic polymer transducers are a class of electroactive polymers that are able to generate large strains (1-5%) in response to low voltage inputs (1-5 V). Additionally, these materials generate electrical charge in response to mechanical strain and are therefore able to operate as soft, distributed sensors. Traditionally, ionic polymer transducers have been limited in their application by their hydration dependence. This work seeks to overcome this limitation by replacing the water with an ionic liquid.
Ionic liquids are molten salts that exhibit very high thermal and electrochemical stability while also possessing high ionic conductivity. Results have shown that an ionic liquid-swollen ionic polymer transducer can operate for more than 250,000 cycles in air as compared to about 2,000 cycles for a water-swollen transducer. The current work examines the mechanisms of transduction in ionic liquid-swollen transducers based on Nafion polymer membranes. Specifically, the morphology and relevant ion associations within these membranes are investigated by the use of small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR). These results reveal that the ionic liquid interacts with the membrane in much the same way that water does, and that the counterions of the Nafion polymer are the primary charge carriers. The results of these analyses are compared to the macroscopic transduction behavior in order to develop a model of the charge transport mechanism responsible for electromechanical coupling in these membranes.