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MIT Researchers discover new electricity production method utilizing carbon nanotubes March 8, 2010

Posted by HubTechInsider in green technology, Manufacturing, Nanotechnology.
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MIT Researchers discover new electricity production method utilizing carbon nanotubes. The team of researchers at MIT have announced that they have made a new breakthrough for producing electricity with carbon nanotubes, and the discovery may one day lead to a myriad of new devices such as sensors the size of dust that can be dispersed in air to monitor the environment or perhaps the technology might lead to implantable devices that produce their own power. The researchers discovered a phenomenon that was previously unknown that produces powerful waved of energy that shoots though carbon nanotubes, producing electricity.

The team of researchers called the phenomenon “thermopower waves.” MIT’s Michael Strano, the Charles and Hilda Roddey Professor of Chemical Engineering, and senior author of the paper reporting the findings said, “[Thermopower waves] opens up a new area of energy research, which is rare.”

The thermal wave is a moving pulse of heat that travels along the microscopic carbon nanotubes and drives electrons along with it creating an electrical current. The team coated carbon nanotubes with a highly reactive fuel that produces heat as it decomposes. The fuel was ignited at one end of the nanotube with a laser beam or high-voltage spark.

The resulting ignition created a fast moving thermal wave that travels about 10,000 times faster than the normal speed of the reaction according to the team. The temperature of the ring of heat reaches about 3,000 kelvins, pushing electrons along the tube creating a substantial electrical current. Strano says that the combustion waves have been mathematically studied for more than a hundred years, but he claims to be the first to predict that the combustion waves could be guided by a nanotube or nanowire and push an electrical current along the wire.

Since the discovery is so new, it is hard to predict how it could be used in practical application. The team plans to conduct more research using different kinds of reactive materials for the fuel coating and the team suspects that by using other materials for the coating the front of the wave could oscillate to produce an alternating current. The team points out that most of the power generated with the new method is given off as light and heat and work is ongoing to make the process more efficient.

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