January 3, 2018 - A novel approach that creates a renewable, leathery material—programmed to remember its shape—may offer a low-cost alternative to conventional conductors for applications in sensors and robotics. To make the bio-based, shape-memory material, Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists streamlined a solvent-free process that mixes rubber with lignin—the by-product of woody plants used to make biofuels.
They fashioned the leathery material into small strips and brushed on a thin layer of silver nanoparticles to activate electrical conductivity.
The strips were stretched or curled and then frozen as part of the process to program the material to return to its intended shape, which occurs after the application of low heat. “The performance of this polymer can be tuned further,” said ORNL’s Amit Naskar. “Variant lignins can be used at different ratios, which determines the material’s pliability.” ORNL detailed their method in Macromolecules.