A Bioinspired Plasmonic Nanocomposite Actuator Sunlight-Driven by a Photothermal-Hygroscopic Effect for Sustainable Soft Robotics
Combined photothermal-hygroscopic effects enable novel materials actuation strategies based on renewable and sustainable energy sources such as sunlight. Plasmonic nanoparticles have gained considerable interest as photothermal agents, however, the employment in sunlight-driven photothermal-hygroscopic actuators is still bounded, mainly due to the limited absorbance once integrated into nanocomposite actuators and the restricted plasmonic peaks amplitude (compared to the solar spectrum). Herein, the design and fabrication of an AgNPs-based plasmonic photothermal-hygroscopic actuator integrated with printed cellulose tracks are reported (bioinspired to Geraniaceae seeds structures). The nanocomposite is actuated by sunlight power density (i.e., 1 Sun = 100 mW cm−2). The plasmonic AgNPs are in situ synthesized on the PDMS surface through a one-step and efficient fluoride-assisted synthesis (surface coverage ≈40%). The nanocomposite has a broadband absorbance in the VIS range (>1) and a Photothermal Conversion Efficiency ≈40%. The actuator is designed exploiting a mechanical model that predicted the curvature and forces, featuring a ≈6.8 ± 0.3 s response time, associated with a ≈43% change in curvature and a 0.76 ± 0.02 mN force under 1 Sun irradiation. The plasmonic nanocomposite actuator can be used for multiple tasks, as hinted through illustrative soft robotics demonstrators, thus fostering a bioinspired approach to developing embodied energy systems driven by sunlight.