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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/T010649/1
Title: Flexoelectric Instabilities in Dielectric Materials
Principal Investigator: Gourgiotis, Dr P
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Sacmi Imola S.C.
Department: Engineering
Organisation: Durham, University of
Scheme: New Investigator Award
Starts: 01 January 2020 Ends: 31 August 2021 Value (£): 201,093
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Condensed Matter Physics Materials Characterisation
Materials Synthesis & Growth Materials testing & eng.
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
11 Sep 2019 EPSRC Physical Sciences - September 2019 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
With the rapid growth of device miniaturization, massive efforts are now directed at integrating nanodevices with low power requirements and extended life spans. The most promising strategy to overcome the challenges offered by conventional powering devices is the use of systems to garner energy from the environment and converting it into usable electric power. To date, research on energy harvesting has been centred around piezoelectric materials. However, despite their broad applicability, piezoelectric materials have significant limitations when used in small scale systems: (i) the electromechanical coupling of piezoelectric materials diminishes significantly at micro/nano scales. (ii) materials with strong piezoelectricity are usually lead-based causing serious health and environmental issues and making them unsuitable for biomedical applications. Therefore, new avenues must be explored with the aim of replacing conventional piezoelectrics for micro/nano mechanical applications with environmentally friendly materials having superior functions.

A very promising solution is offered by exploiting the newly discovered electromechanical coupling phenomenon of flexoelectricity which isn't subject to the above limitations. Flexoelectricity refers to the coupling of the electric polarisation with the gradient of strain and becomes highly relevant at the micro-to-nano scales. Unlike piezoelectricity, flexoelectricity is a universal property of all insulators and hence is present in a much wider variety of materials. There is now a growing body of evidence showing the huge potential of flexoelectricity in diverse fields ranging from energy harvesting to the design of next generation multifunctional materials, opening unique functionalities that cannot be achieved by other means. Recent studies show that lead-free materials with high flexoelectric constants such as perovskite ferroelectric ceramics can dramatically enhance energy harvesting efficiency at the micro-to-nano scales and significantly increase solar energy conversion efficiency. Ferroelectric ceramics, however, are inherently brittle and at the microscale their behavior becomes strongly nonlocal. Unfortunately, at such scales, the effects of the electromechanical coupling and the physics of fracture are not properly understood.

The goal of the FLEXIBILITIES project is twofold: (i) to understand the effects of flexoelectricity on the physics of fracture at submicron scales, and to propose, for the first time, a rigorous design-against-failure framework for flexoelectric materials and, (ii) to design novel flexoelectric metamaterial structures in order to produce electromechanical devices using lead-free dielectrics with superior properties compared to conventional piezoelectrics. To achieve these objectives, a flexoelectric fracture mechanics framework will be established starting from first principles calculations. New fracture criteria will be then proposed for flexoelectric materials. A rigorous computational isogeometric FE tool will be developed and employed to identify novel design concepts for metamaterial or composite structures that constructively accumulate the flexoelectric effect. The theoretical and numerical analysis will be corroborated through experimental modelling.

The outcomes of the proposed research will be instrumental in advancing the next generation electromechanical transducers and energy systems at submicron scales, providing a framework for highly efficient energy scavenging via nanostructures and enabling the production of new small-scale electromechanical devices such as thin film semiconductors, plasmonic nanostructures and piezoelectric type ribbons that can be fruitfully used in applications ranging from communications to bionics. For industry this would mean developing environmentally friendly and energy-efficient processes while for our homes it could involve smart systems for saving energy.

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