Metal hydrides have been investigated for use in a number of solar thermal energy applications, such as heat regenerators or hydrogen storage technology, but rarely for thermal actuators. Preliminary experimental results from a prototype solar thermal metal hydride actuator, using copper-encapsulated porous metal hydride compacts of LaNi5, indicate that this thermal-mechanical system can produce high specific forces (over 100 (N/g)), with response times on the order of seconds. These operational characteristics, along with features such as being bio-mimetic, compact, operationally safe, lubricationless, noiseless, soft actuating, and environmentally benign, result in an actuator that is ideal for many industrial, space, defense, and biomedical applications. In this paper, we report recent work directed toward predicting and characterizing the performance bounds of the actuator, specically concentrating on elements which might comprise an actuator driven by concentrated solar radiation. A complete solution of the 1D governing heat and mass transfer equations with an ideally selective reactor surface are used to predict bounds on performance in terms of volume flow rates and realistic actuation times. The advantages and disadvantages of the design are discussed from this perspective. The preliminary data show a great potential for these metal hydride actuators to be used for solar thermo-mechanical applications.

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