Article Updated 19th July 2021
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Thermogravimetric analysis is the process of conducting thermal analysis on a sample over time, measuring the mass as the temperature adjusts. The analytical technique is used to determine a number of factors, including absorption, adsorption, desorption, phase changes, and other physical phenomena.
It can also be used to measure chemical phenomena such as chemisorptions, solid-gas reactions like oxidation and reduction, and thermal decomposition.
Overall, the method can determine a sample’s thermal stability by monitoring is mass over time as it is heated. The technique has become commonplace in numerous scientific fields, findings its use in characterizing materials used in food, pharmaceuticals, environmental settings, and in the petrochemical industry.
It is also becoming increasingly important in the development of robotics. Below we discuss the various ways that thermogravimetric analysis is being applied in robotics.
How is Thermogravimetric Analysis Used in Robotics?
Developing Memristors and Polymers by Testing Thermal Stability
Thermogravimetric analysis plays many roles in robotics. To begin with, the method is used to measure the thermal stability of sample material. This is key vital in developing new materials for use as memristors in next-generation robotics.
The development of flexible electronics is vital to advancing achievements in the field of soft robotics, which are becoming increasingly important due to their various roles in assisting in surgeries, serving as robotic muscles, constructing next-generation prosthetics, creating climbing robots, edible robots, and wearables.
Memristors with good thermal stability are essential to facilitating these kinds of advancements; however, traditional memristors lack this property. Therefore, scientists are working on creating these new memristors by stacking two-dimensional materials. It is also important that this kind of memristor can be constructed onto a polyimide substrate, allowing for flexible, highly thermally stable memristors.
Thermogravimetric analysis has emerged as a key technique for measuring the thermal stability of a material. By measuring the material’s change in mass over-controlled and steady heating, scientists can determine the thermal stability of a material, where no change is equivalent to high thermal stability. Rapid degradation of the material, on the other hand, represents low thermal stability.
Electroactive polymers are also playing a vital role in the development of next-generation soft robotics. Thermogravimetric analysis is also being used to assess the thermal stability of the new electroactive polymers that are being designed for this purpose. A new type of polymer has now been developed that is impervious to 300 °C temperatures in air and 500 °C in inert gases. Thermogravimetric analysis can be used to determine if a newly developed polymer meets these standards.
Reducing Fuel Consumption in Robotic Vehicles
Another important area of robotics that thermogravimetric analysis is assisting in is the field of energy consumption of robotic vehicles. With the current global focus on reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change, all industries are looking to using alternative technologies that help them move away from a reliance on fossil fuels. Agriculture is one of the biggest emitters of carbon emissions worldwide, with 9% of the world’s total emissions being attributed to this economic sector in 2017.
To tackle their considerable emissions, farms are changing the vehicles they are using to conduct their agricultural practices. Traditionally, farming vehicles contribute considerable amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere due to being fueled by non-renewable energy. To address this, agricultural vehicles are beginning to be substituted by robotic vehicles that can reduce fuel emissions due to their automated, optimized movements.
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Thermogravimetric analysis is being used to measure the combustion reactions of these vehicles to monitor their fuel efficiency. To do this, samples are loaded into the thermogravimetric analyzer under normal conditions. The sample is then heated to temperatures that exceed the ignition temperature of a sample.
Scientists then use the data collected to plot a curve where the y-axis represents the percentage of initial mass, and the residue is represented at the final point of the curve. This process enables scientists to gain a greater understanding of the combustion efficiency of these vehicles, to help reduce carbon emissions as much as possible.
Assisting in Developing Biomedical Microrobots
Finally, thermogravimetric analysis is also being used to help develop the microrobots being used in biomedical applications. The method is being utilized in evaluating the activation conditions as well as the porosity of metal-organic frameworks, which have become vital in creating microrobots.
What is the role of robotics in industrial polymer characterization?
Engineers have advanced the concepts established in micro- and nanorobotics to demonstrate that the delivery of medicine can be achieved by creating embedded metal-organic frameworks. This has resulted in the creation of metal-organic framework-based micro machines known as MOFBOTs. Studies have shown that these MOFBOTs, driven by artificial bacterial flagella, can follow complex trajectories under the direction of weak rotational magnetic fields.
To help develop these metal-organic frameworks, engineers are using thermogravimetric analyzers as a rapid and accurate way of distinguishing porous materials and establishing what the optimum activation conditions are for metal-organic frameworks.
Sources and Further Reading
- Nature Electronics, 2018. Cutting the cord. 1(2), pp.89-89. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41928-018-0037-9
- McDonald, T., Bloch, E. and Long, J., 2015. Rapidly assessing the activation conditions and porosity of metal–organic frameworks using thermogravimetric analysis. Chemical Communications, 51(24), pp.4985-4988.