Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered a new way to generate electricity. They created particles based on carbon nanotubes that, when trapped in an "electron-hungry" organic solvent, generate a current. In the experiment, the voltage generated was sufficient to initiate and maintain the alcohol oxidation reaction.
An article describing the technology and the demonstration experiment itself was published by American researchers in the journal Nature Communications. Its authors include highly qualified specialists in the field of physics and chemistry of carbon compounds of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). One of the members of this team of scientists, Michael Strano, in 2010 discovered the so-called thermal energy waves in carbon nanotubes.
It was this discovery that pushed researchers to look further for new properties of the promising graphene-based material. In a new experiment, American scientists have created microscopic particles (250 by 250 micrometers) from carbon nanotubes. Half of them were covered with a material similar to Teflon, and the other was left "naked". When such particles were laid in an even layer on the bottom of the vessel and poured over with an organic solvent (acetonitrile), they began to generate a current.
The scientists' assumption turned out to be correct. Acetonitrile covers the remaining defenseless surface of the nanotubes and "pulls" some of the electrons in the carbon atoms onto itself. Since the system tends to a state of rest, the movement of electrons begins in the graphene structure, striving to "take" vacant places. The result is an electric field that can be used. In an experiment, the current design of such "nanogenerators" has shown the ability to generate about 0.7 volts per microparticle.
To demonstrate the practical application of the technology, the researchers assembled an electrochemical reactor. From the microparticles they developed, they formed a column in a tube filled with acetonitrile. The electricity generated by such a "battery" was used to power the reaction of decomposition of alcohol into ketones or aldehydes (alcohol oxidation). This is not the most energy efficient way to carry out such a reaction, but it does not require foreign substances.
In the future, microparticles created by scientists from MIT can become the heart for power plants for a wide variety of purposes. For example, to feed nanorobots in the body of experimental animals or even people who need an internal examination or targeted delivery of medicines to a specific part of the body. Another useful application is compact physicochemical reactors, similar to those demonstrated in the experiment.