Lead-free Zr-doped ceria ceramics with low permittivity displaying giant electrostriction

Maxim Varenik, Boyuan Xu, Junying Li, Elad Gaver, Ellen Wachtel, David Ehre, Prahlad K. Routh, Sergey Khodorov, Anatoly I. Frenkel, Yue Qi, Igor Lubomirsky

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Electrostrictors, materials developing mechanical strain proportional to the square of the applied electric field, present many advantages for mechanical actuation as they convert electrical energy into mechanical, but not vice versa. Both high relative permittivity and reliance on Pb as the key component in commercial electrostrictors pose serious practical and health problems. Here we describe a low relative permittivity (<250) ceramic, ZrxCe1-xO2 (x < 0.2), that displays electromechanical properties rivaling those of the best performing electrostrictors: longitudinal electrostriction strain coefficient ~10−16 m2/V2; relaxation frequency ≈ a few kHz; and strain ≥0.02%. Combining X-ray absorption spectroscopy, atomic-level modeling and electromechanical measurements, here we show that electrostriction in ZrxCe1-xO2 is enabled by elastic dipoles produced by anharmonic motion of the smaller isovalent dopant (Zr). Unlike the elastic dipoles in aliovalent doped ceria, which are present even in the absence of an applied elastic or electric field, the elastic dipoles in ZrxCe1-xO2 are formed only under applied anisotropic field. The local descriptors of electrostrictive strain, namely, the cation size mismatch and dynamic anharmonicity, are sufficiently versatile to guide future searches in other polycrystalline solids.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7371
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - 15 Nov 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


The work on development of novel electrostrictive materials was supported by the US Army Research Office (ARO grant #W911NF2110263, I.L.). The work on development of the theoretical description and the properties of the elastic dipoles was supported by the Israel-US Binational Science foundation regular program (Y.Q. + I.L grant # 2020108). IL and AIF acknowledge the NSF-BSF program grant 2022786, which supported the synchrotron measurements and their analysis. AIF and PKR acknowledge support by NSF Grant number DMR-2312690. This research used beamline 7-BM (QAS) of the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a U.S. DOE Office of Science User Facility operated for the DOE Office of Science by Brookhaven National Laboratory under contract no. DE-SC0012704. We gratefully acknowledge Drs. Lu Ma and Steven Ehrlich for their support of the XAS measurements at the 7-BM beamline. We acknowledge support of the beamline experiments by the Synchrotron Catalysis Consortium funded by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Grant No. DE-SC0012335. AIF acknowledges support by Weston Visiting Professorship during his stay at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

FundersFunder number
Israel-US Binational Science foundation regular program2020108
National Synchrotron Light Source II
National Science FoundationDMR-2312690
U.S. Department of Energy
Army Research Office911NF2110263
Office of Science
Basic Energy SciencesDE-SC0012335
Brookhaven National LaboratoryDE-SC0012704


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