A valve actuator based on a conductive polymer gel is disclosed. A nonconductive housing is provided having two separate chambers separated by a porous frit. The conductive polymer is held in one chamber and an electrolyte solution, used as a source of charged ions, is held in the second chamber. The ends of the housing a sealed with a flexible elastomer. The polymer gel is further provide with electrodes with which to apply an electrical potential across the gel in order to initiate an oxidation reaction which in turn drives anions across the porous frit and into the polymer gel, swelling the volume of the gel and simultaneously contracting the volume of the electrolyte solution. Because the two end chambers are sealed the flexible elastomer expands or contracts with the chamber volume change. By manipulating the potential across the gel the motion of the elastomer can be controlled to act as a "gate" to open or close a fluid channel and thereby control flow through that channel.
The United States Government has rights in this invention pursuant to Contract No. DE-AC04-94AL85000 between the United States Department of Energy and Sandia Corporation for the operation of Sandia National Laboratories.