MIT engineers discover a new way to generate electricity that’s partially renewable as it takes energy from its surroundings. With energy demands increasing every day, we need newer and more efficient ways to generate them. This new way discovered by MIT engineers employs the use of carbon particles that can create an electric current just by simply submerging in an organic solvent.
The organic solvent is used to draw electrons out of the carbon particles that then generates a current that is enough to drive chemical reactions and power micro or nanoscale robots. The researchers showed that they could use the current to drive alcohol oxidation, an organic chemical reaction that is important in the chemical industry. According to Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, “This mechanism is new, and this way of generating energy is completely new”.
Michael further said that “This technology is intriguing because all you have to do is flow a solvent through a bed of these particles. This allows you to do electrochemistry, but with no wires”. He’s also the senior author of the paper which was published yesterday in Nature Communications. Strano had been doing extensive research on carbon nanotubes with his team. Nanotubes are basically hollow tubes made of a lattice of carbon atoms.
During their research they discovered that when the nanotubes are covered with a Teflon-like polymer, it makes it possible for electrons to flow from the coated to the uncoated part of the tube, generating an electrical current. So they ground them up to make sheets of carbon particles who were then submerged in solvents like acetonitrile, that can pull the electrons out.
According to Strano, “The solvent takes electrons away, and the system tries to equilibrate by moving electrons. There’s no sophisticated battery chemistry inside. It’s just a particle and you put it into solvent and it starts generating an electric field”. The particles can only generate about 0.7 volts of electricity per particle right now so an array of particles must be formed to get a decent amount of juice out of them.
The team hopes to use this discovering the team hopes to also make polymers that only need carbon dioxide as a starting material.