Researchers Create Motorless Pumps from Ultra-Thin Film

21 May 2020

Researchers from Germany’s Saarland University are building pumps and valves using electroactive silicone film that enables enhanced functionalities beyond on and off, and open and close. 

The thin silicone film that researchers used to create the pumps and valves is printed on both sides with electrically conductive material known as dielectric elastomers. To electrically control the film to perform on-demand vibrations or pulses while simultaneously tracking its position, the researchers applied a voltage to the film. Once applied, an electrostatic attractive force was generated, which compressed the film and forced it to expand sideways. 

The Saarland team applied algorithms to manipulate the film’s movements and used the film to construct motionless pumps and self-regulating valves. 

The film enabled the design of a flat, compact, energy-efficient motorless pump by eliminating the need for separate moving components; in particular, a rotating motor. According to researchers, the pump’s volume rate is controlled through the amplitude of the voltage applied instead of frequency, which is what is commonly used. 

Due to the responsiveness of the material, which enables operators to vary a valve’s flow rate and to regulate a pump's performance, the film can also be used to notify operators in real time if the valves or pumps are blocked with material. Likewise, the material might signal valve or pump failures in an industrial setting, helping personnel to spot the first signs of trouble before a costly failure. 

Image credit: Germany’s Saarland University