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MIT Scientists Find New Way to Generate Electricity
Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found a way to produce large amounts of electricity from tiny cylinders made from carbon atoms.The previously unknown phenomenon, described as thermopower waves, "opens up a new area of energy research, which is rare," says Michael Strano, an associate professor of chemical engineering at MIT.
After coating these tiny wires with a layer of fuel, the team generated a so-called thermopower wave and stumbled across a reaction that may eventually be used to power electronics, computers and cell phones.
Heat from the fuel goes into the nanotube where it travels thousands of times faster than in the fuel itself.
With a temperature of 3,000 kelvins this ring of heat speads along the tube 10,000 times
faster than the normal spread of this chemical reaction
As the heat feeds back to the fuel coating, a thermal wave is created that is guided along the nanotube.
The heating produced by that combustion, it turns out, also pushes electrons along the tube, creating a substantial electrical current.
The achievement could replace decades-old methods of generating electricity, such as combustion engines and turbines.
The new system puts out energy about 100 times greater than an equivalent weight of a lithium-ion battery.
While the individual nanowires are tiny, Strano suggests that they could be made in large arrays in order to supply significant amounts of power for larger devices.
And that's not all. Most batteries on the market now are made from highly toxic heavy metals, which are very bad for the environment -- metals like lead, nickel and cadmium.
Batteries made from this new thermopower technology would be completely nontoxic.
"The materials we use to make these thermopower waves are organic. They're not grown naturally, but they're made of carbon. In other words, you could essentially incinerate them, or they would degrade over time, there's no heavy metal residue," Strano said.
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