How nanoporous silicon-polypyrrole hybrids flex their muscles in aqueous electrolytes: in operando high-resolution x-ray diffraction and electron tomography-based micromechanical computer simulations
Macroscopic strain experiments have revealed that silicon crystals traversed by parallel, channel-like nanopores functionalized with the artificial muscle polymer polypyrrole (PPy) exhibit large and reversible electrochemomechanical actuation in aqueous electrolytes. On a macroscopic scale these actuation properties are well understood. However, on the microscopical level this system still bears open questions, as to how the electrochemical expansion and contraction of PPy acts on to np-Si pore walls and how the collective motorics of the pore array emerges from the single-nanopore behavior. Here we present synchrotron-based, in operando x-ray diffraction on the evolving electrostrains in epilayers of this material grown on bulk silicon. An analysis of these experiments with micromechanical finite-element simulations, that are based on a full three-dimensional reconstruction of the nanoporous medium by transmission electron microscopy (TEM) tomography, shows that the in-plane mechanical response is dominantly isotropic despite the anisotropic elasticity of the single-crystalline host matrix. However, the structural anisotropy originating from the parallel alignment of the nanopores led to significant differences between the in- and out-of-plane electromechanical response. This response is not describable by a simple two-dimensional arrangement of parallel cylindrical channels. Rather, the simulations highlight that the dendritic shape of the silicon pore walls, including pore connections between the main channels, causes complex, highly inhomogeneous stress-strain fields in the crystalline host. Time-dependent x-ray scattering experiments on the dynamics of the actuator properties hint towards the importance of diffusion limitations, plastic deformation, and creep in the nanoconfined polymer upon (counter)ion adsorption and desorption, the very pore-scale processes causing the macroscopic electroactuation. From a more general perspective, our study demonstrates that the combination of TEM tomography-based micromechanical modeling with high-resolution x-ray scattering experiments provides a powerful approach for in operando analysis of nanoporous composites from the single nanopore up to the porous-medium scale.