How Tangled Carbon Nanotubes Can Generate Energy


When we think about green technology which generates electricity, we usually think about things like solar panels, wind turbines, or biofuel.  But what if you could produce energy by doing something so mundane as breathing, or by harnessing the ocean’s waves?

Thanks to an interesting material called “twistron harvesters,” that may someday be possible. 

Twistron harvesters are created by weaving carbon nanotube threads into a tangled web of carbon and immersing it into an electrolyte gel.  When coated in the gel and pulled, the carbon nanotubes compress and produce a small current of electricity.  While the current is faint, it is enough to light up an LED. 

Before this experiment, a similar material known as “capacitance-change-based mechanical energy harvesters” was able to generate electricity, but only with the help of external voltage to start the process.  The fact that the twistron does not need that extra help is a great step forward. 

Researchers found that these carbon nanotube yarns could be incorporated into shirts, allowing a small amount of electricity to be generated when the wearer breathed in and out.  The harvesters also worked in salt water, where the motion of waves tugging on the yarn would produce electricity. 

Unfortunately, twistron harvesters are not able to generate a huge amount of electricity in their current state, but scientists think that the technology is scalable.  If the harvesters are connected into longer strands, more power can be produced (up to about 250 watts per kilogram).  This means that any place with dependable kinetic energy could potentially generate energy with this stuff. 

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AJ has been writing ever since he could first hold a pencil, and hasn't really slowed down since. Previously working as an editor and ghostwriter (he still does those things, actually), these days he's putting his keyboard to good use at multiple tech websites.