Passive Micropumps

A passive system is defined inherently as one that does not require an external energy source. Thus, the term passive micropump might seem misnomer upon initial inspection. However, there have been some efforts dedicated to realizing a passive micropump that essentially does not draw energy from an external source, but stores the required actuation energy in some form and converts it to mechanical energy on demand.

Passive Micropump Based on Osmotic Pressure

Nagakura et al. [9.71] have demonstrated a meso-scale osmotic actuator that converts chemical energy to mechanical displacement. Osmosis is a well-known phenomenon by which liquid is transported across a semipermeable membrane to achieve a uniform concentration distribution across the membrane. If the membrane is flexible, such as the one used by Nagakura et al. [9.71], then the transfer of liquid would cause the membrane to deform and act as an actuator. The inherent drawback of using osmosis as an actuation mechanism is that it is a very slow process: Typical response times (on a macroscale) are on the order of several hours. However, osmotic transport scales favorably to the microscale, and it is expected that these devices will have response times on the order of several minutes, rather than hours. Based on this idea, Nagakura et al. [9.71] are developing a miniature insulin pump. Su et al. [9.72] have demonstrated a mi-croscale osmotic actuator that is capable of developing pressures as high as 35MPa. This is still a relatively unexplored realm in BioMEMS actuation, and it has good potential for applications such as sustained drug delivery.

Passive Pumping Based on Surface Tension

Glenn et al. have demonstrated pumping action using the difference between the surface tension pressure at the inlet and outlet of a microfluidic channel. In the simplest case, a small drop of a fluid is placed at one end of a straight microchannel, and a much larger drop of fluid is placed at the opposite end of the microchannel. The pressure within the small drop is significantly higher than the pressure within the large drop, due the difference in the surface tension effects across the two drops. Consequently, the liquid will flow from the small drop and add to the larger drop. The flow rate can be varied by changing various parameters such as the vol ume of the pumping drop, the surface free energy of the liquid, or the resistance of the microchannel, etc. This pumping scheme is very easy to realize and can be used for a wide variety of fluids.

Evaporation-Based Continuous Micropump

Effenhauser et al. [9.73] have demonstrated a continuous flow micropump based on a controlled evaporation approach. Their concept is based on the controlled evaporation of a liquid through a membrane into a gas reservoir. The reservoir contains a suitable adsorption agent that draws out the liquid vapors and maintains a low vapor pressure conducive to further evaporation. If the liquid being pumped is replenished from a reservoir, capillary forces will ensure that the fluid is continuously pumped through the microchannels as it evaporates on the other end into the adsorption reservoir. Though the pump suffers from inherent disadvantages such as strong temperature dependence and operation only in suction mode, it offers a very simple technique for fluidic transport.

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