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Fluoropolymer ferroelectrics: Multifunctional platform for polar-structured energy conversion | Science

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12 May 2023

Vol 380, Issue 6645

Editor’s summary

Certain fluoropolymers have ferroelectric properties and attractive mechanical properties for a wide range of applications. Qian et al. review the history of these polymers and discuss recent progress, focusing on their potential use in electromechanical, electrocaloric, and dielectric applications. Fluoropolymers are relatively flexible, making these materials attractive for a wide range of applications, including wearable devices. Many challenges remain for improving the properties of these materials for commercial applications. —Brent Grocholski

Structured Abstract


Polymeric ferroelectrics are distinguished by their high pliability, easy fabrication into complicated shapes, mechanical robustness, and polar active nature. Ferroelectricity in polymers was discovered around the 1970s in poly(vinylidene fluoride), which has served as a platform for efficient cross-coupling between electrical, mechanical, and thermal energies. Such ferroelectric soft materials and their polar active derivatives undergo a change in electrical polarization in response to general forces (mechanical stresses or temperature changes) and vice versa, enabling a series of physical effects, including piezoelectric and electrostriction, electrocaloric and pyroelectric, and a variety of dielectric and ferroelectric effects. These multifunctional polymeric materials are suitable for many different applications in portable, miniaturized, and wearable electroactive devices applied at human–machine interfaces because of their easy processability into thin, light, tough, and pliable films and fibers.


Polymer ferroelectrics have exhibited marked improvements in electromechanical coupling efficiency, electrostrictive strain, electrocaloric heat-pumping capability, and lifetime, which have substantially boosted the development of practical applications based on these polar soft materials owing to the facile application of defects in tuning and controlling the polarization processes at the monomeric, macromolecular, and morphological structure levels. For the first time, the piezoelectric and electromechanical coupling factors of fluorinated alkyne (FA)–modified relaxor ferroelectric tetrapolymers have surpassed those of lead zirconate titanate (PZT) piezoceramics, the presently most widely used piezoceramics in the world. Coupled with the progressive 4% electrostrictive strain under a low electrical field of 50 MV/m, this advancement represents a step forward in developing efficient wearable sensory and haptic devices and soft robots. Additionally, advances in ferroelectric-based electrocaloric polymers have led to large electrocaloric cooling of >7.5 K under ultralow electric fields without fatigue. These ferroelectric polymers can offer customized, energy-efficient solutions to curb the CO2 emissions of current commercial heat pumps, air conditioners (ACs), and refrigerators, which are responsible for 60% of building emissions. In addition, the most recently reported electroactive fabrics demonstrate versatile strategies for integrating these polymer ferroelectrics at human–machine interfaces in this envisioned low-carbon society.


Understanding and then tailor-making the structures and polarization responses of polymeric ferroelectrics to obtain respective functionalities are critical for the development of these polymeric systems. Given their rich underlying chemistry, FA-modified relaxor ferroelectric polymers are likely still in their infancy. Defect modifications on the molecular scale provide a plethora of methods to manipulate the polar structures and field-induced phase transitions on demand. Considering the vast pool of monomers and nanoscale extrinsic inclusions that can be selected, defect modification in polymer ferroelectrics remains largely unexplored and holds great possibility for contributing to green, smart, and meta lifestyles. Further identifying and understanding the various polarization mechanisms and processes for each functionality at multiple scales will be accomplished by utilizing the current advanced, in situ characterization and simulation tools at our disposal. For different cross-couplings and correlated applications, materials should be fine-tuned to exhibit their respective collection of optimized properties. Several mutual challenges should be addressed, including realizing low-field operation, a long lifetime, viable strategies for integration and mass production, and so on. Considering the commercially available processes for polymeric films, multilayer capacitors, fibers, and fabrics, these flexible ferroelectrics are expected to play a key role in haptic, sensory, and robotic applications in the metaverse, serve as a solid-state refrigerant for flat-panel and/or wearable ACs, and provide a broad range of localized, bodily sensations and tactile effects currently unavailable on the market.

Multiphysical cross-couplings and enabled applications offered by polymeric ferroelectrics.

Advances in ferroelectric polymers—from homopolymers to tetrapolymers—have promoted applications that harness the power of efficient electromechanical, electrothermal, and a variety of dielectric interactions. The synergy of these physical effects has stimulated the fast development of flexural active systems, wearable refrigeration, flexible memories, and high-efficiency and compact energy storage over the past four decades. VDF, vinylidene fluoride; TrFE, trifluoroethylene; CFE, chlorofluoroethylene.


Ferroelectric materials are currently some of the most widely applied material systems and are constantly generating improved functions with higher efficiencies. Advancements in poly(vinylidene fluoride) (PVDF)–based polymer ferroelectrics provide flexural, coupling-efficient, and multifunctional material platforms for applications that demand portable, lightweight, wearable, and durable features. We highlight the recent advances in fluoropolymer ferroelectrics, their energetic cross-coupling effects, and emerging technologies, including wearable, highly efficient electromechanical actuators and sensors, electrocaloric refrigeration, and dielectric devices. These developments reveal that the molecular and nanostructure manipulations of the polarization-field interactions, through facile defect biasing, could introduce enhancements in the physical effects that would enable the realization of multisensory and multifunctional wearables for the emerging immersive virtual world and smart systems for a sustainable future.

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Published In


Volume 380 | Issue 6645
12 May 2023


Copyright © 2023 The Authors, some rights reserved; exclusive licensee American Association for the Advancement of Science. No claim to original U.S. Government Works.

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Submission history

Received: 1 December 2022

Accepted: 5 April 2023

Published in print: 12 May 2023


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Funding: Q.M.Z. and X.C. acknowledge support from the US Office of Naval Research under award N00014-19-1-2028. X.Q. thanks the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant 52076127), the Natural Science Foundation of Shanghai (grants 20ZR1471700 and 22JC1401800), and the State Key Laboratory of Mechanical System and Vibration (grant MSVZD202211). L.Z. acknowledges financial support from the US National Science Foundation (grant DMR-2103196).

Competing interests: Q.M.Z. and X.C. have filed a PCT patent application (PCT/US2022/032214) at Penn State on EM tetrapolymers and related EM devices. X.Q. has filed a patent application (WO/2022/257747) on tetrapolymers and ECE. L.Z. has no competing interests.



State Key Laboratory of Mechanical System and Vibration, Interdisciplinary Research Centre, and MOE Key Laboratory for Power Machinery and Engineering, School of Mechanical Engineering, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai 200240, China.

Roles: Conceptualization, Data curation, Funding acquisition, Investigation, Project administration, Resources, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, and Writing – review & editing.

Materials Research Institute and Department of Materials Science and Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.

Roles: Conceptualization, Formal analysis, Methodology, Software, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, and Writing – review & editing.

Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.

Roles: Conceptualization, Funding acquisition, Project administration, Supervision, Visualization, Writing – original draft, and Writing – review & editing.

Materials Research Institute and Department of Materials Science and Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.

School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.

Roles: Conceptualization, Funding acquisition, Project administration, Supervision, Visualization, Writing – original draft, and Writing – review & editing.

Funding Information

US National Science Foundation: DMR-2103196


These authors contributed equally to this work.

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Fluoropolymer ferroelectrics: Multifunctional platform for polar-structured energy conversion.Science380,eadg0902(2023).DOI:10.1126/science.adg0902

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