Engineers at MIT have devised what they call a new way of producing electricity. By coating a microscopic carbon nanotube with a layer of fuel and igniting one end with a spark or laser, they’re able to send a wave of heat shooting through the nanotube’s interior. This thermal wave pushes electrons in its path, generating a significant electric current. Prototypes already have energy density 100 times greater than lithium-ion batteries, and they can be stored indefinitely without leaking charge. The researchers are now investigating optimal fuels and, to make the system reusable, will have to invent a way to automatically apply a fresh layer of fuel after the first burns away.
How It Works:
1. Heat the Tube
One end of a microscopic carbon nanotube, coated with reactive fuel, is ignited by a laser.
2. Herd the Particles
A wave of heat races through the inside of the tube, pushing electrons toward the other end.
3. Harvest the Energy
The movement of the electrons forms an electric current.
Possible Uses For Nanotube Power:
Nanotubes could power environmental sensors that, scattered like dust in the air, closely monitor wide areas.
The devices store power indefinitely, so they could be ideal for sensors in craft on deep space missions.
A special coating could produce an alternating current that can transmit radio signals and cellphone calls.