Material that generates electricity in contact with a solvent

Engineers have discovered a new way to generate electricity using a material made of Carbon nanotubes which you can create a stream simply by interacting with a organic solvent that surrounds it.

The organic solvent, a liquid, extracts electrons from the material’s particles, generating a current that could be used to drive chemical reactions or to power micrometer- or nano-sized robots.

The invention is the work of a team that includes Michael Strano and Albert Tianxiang Liu, both from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States.

“This way of generating energy is completely new,” emphasizes Strano, who also highlights the simplicity of the technology: “All you have to do is make a solvent flow through a set of these particles. This makes it possible to do electrochemistry, but without cables. “

The discovery arose from Strano’s research on carbon nanotubes, hollow tubes made of a lattice of carbon atoms forming one-atom-thick layers that have unique electrical properties.

Strano and his colleagues discovered that when part of a nanotube is coated with a Teflon-like polymer, an asymmetry is created that enables electrons to flow from the coated part of the tube to the uncoated part, generating an electric current. Those electrons can be extracted by immersing the particles in an electron-hungry solvent.

To take advantage of this special ability, the researchers created electricity-generating particles by crushing carbon nanotubes and forming a sheet of paper-like material. One side of each sheet was coated with a Teflon-like polymer, and the researchers then cut it into small particles, which can be of any shape or size. For this study, they made 250 micron by 250 micron particles.

When these particles are immersed in an organic solvent such as acetonitrile, the solvent adheres to the uncoated surface of the particles and begins to extract electrons from them.

MIT engineers have discovered a way to generate electricity using tiny carbon particles that can create an electrical current simply by interacting with an organic solvent with which they are in contact. The particles are made of crushed carbon nanotubes (blue) and are partially coated with a Teflon-like polymer (green). (Image: Jose-Luis Olivares, MIT, based on a diagram by the research team. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The current version of the particles can generate about 0.7 volts of electricity per particle.

Strano and his colleagues have shown that they can use this electrical current to drive a reaction known as alcohol oxidation, an important organic chemistry reaction in the chemical industry.

Researchers have also shown that they can establish arrays of hundreds of particles in a small test tube. (Source: NCYT from Amazings)

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