Carbon nanotube and graphene fiber artificial muscles
Actuator materials capable of producing a rotational or tensile motion are rare and, yet, rotary systems are extensively utilized in mechanical systems like electric motors, pumps, turbines and compressors. Rotating elements of such machines can be rather complex and, therefore, difficult to miniaturize. Rotating action at the microscale, or even nanoscale, would benefit from the direct generation of torsion from an actuator material. Herein we discuss the advantages of using carbon nanotube (CNT) yarns and/or graphene (G) fibers as novel artificial muscles that have the ability to be driven by the electrochemical charging of helically wound multiwall carbon nanotubes or graphene fibers as well as elements in the ambient environment such as moisture to generate such rotational action. The torsional strain, torque, speed and lifetime have been evaluated under various electrochemical conditions to provide insight into the actuation mechanism and performance. Here the most recent advances in artificial muscles based on sheath-run artificial muscles (SRAMs) are reviewed. Finally, the rotating motion of the CNT yarn actuator and the humidity-responsive twisted graphene fibers have been coupled to a mixer for use in a prototype microfluidic system, moisture management and a humidity switch respectively.