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Analysing the growth potential of electroactive polymers

Posted: 07 May 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:electroactive polymer? EAP? piezoelectric fluoropolymer? dielectric elastomer? haptics?

Electroactive polymers (EAP) have been used in actuators, capacitors, and nanocomposites for some time now. The market for EAP is also expected to grow to $245 million in 2013, according to IDTechEx Research. This positive market, together with recent technological progress, opens new growth opportunities for EAP.

Despite several decades of R&D and first applications, the EAP field is still far from mature. Why? Challenges, such as performance, long-term stability and reliable mass production, need further development to tailor the properties to the requirements of each target application. The market potential as forecasted by IDTechEx Research is as high as $2.25 billion by 2018, dominated by consumer electronics, actuators and sensors applications.

EAPs are part of the broad group of smart materials. The use of polymers with electroactive response has only emerged in the last decade with the introduction of new materials which have significant displacement levels. These materials are highly attractive for their low-density, large strain capability, superior spectral response, and resilience. In general, the biggest advantages over conventionally used systems in most application fields are the intermittent displacement they can provide, an adaptable stiffness combined with variable size and form factors from micrometres to metres. Companies like Artificial Muscle (AMI) of Bayer MaterialsScience and Strategic Polymers (SPS) have been able to tune the properties even further. AMI's were able to eliminate the issues with high driving electric fields. Their dielectric EAP based actuator has an average power consumption of just 1.5mW and already passed mobile qualification tests. And SPS' PVDF terpolymer based EMP actuators show comparable high deformation strain in the range of 0.5-2.5 per cent.

The matrix shows a comparison of the main EAP types by maximum strain, pressure and efficiency, as well as the driving electric field and cycle time.

Ionic EAP

Electronic vs. Ionic EAP
Source: IDTechEx report "Electroactive Polymers and Devices 2013-2018: Forecasts, Technologies, Players"

The market potential is large. EAPs can be used in various applications including actuators and sensors, biomimetics and robotics, energy harvesting and storage devices etc. Dielectric sensors are already in use for a wide range of applications, such as surface or bulk measurements sensors. Especially in the actuators segment vast R&D activity can be seen for specialised applications such as medical devices and biomimetic-robotics. Here the features of electroactive polymers are used to enable movement and generate force as well as electrically control surface properties. However, these are very demanding markets, with high performance requirements and also restrictions especially in the medical field, which is why it will take at least five more years before revenues grow significantly.

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