The society we’ve managed to create for ourselves is downright impressive. We’ve come up with so much technology aimed at improving our lives that we’d have trouble if we were to revert to a societal state where we are deprived of all our comforts. And this would very easily happen if we were to lose the most important thing on which most of our technology depends – power.
So of course, developing new and more efficient power sources is a top priority for the scientific community. As it seems to be a potential breakthrough in the field of energy development, let’s talk for a bit about the efficient non-toxic energy source developed by MIT.
The procedure on which the new energy source was developed was discovered in 2010 by Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor in Chemical Engineering at MIT. Back then, the professor and his team found that a small wire made from carbon nanotubes produces an electrical current when progressively heated from one end to the other.
Being a totally new discovery, the professor and his team kept working on the project, eventually increasing its efficiency more than a thousandfold. They managed to create devices that can compete even with the most powerful of today’s batteries; and even though it may take years to fully perfect and commercialize these products, they are far cleaner than any power cell or battery today.
It’s very interesting how the process works. According to Strano, his team hasn’t only been focusing on developing the technology based on the process, but also on figuring out the theory behind it, as nobody else has actually bothered to look into it. Here’s how the energy source works.
When the small carbon tubes are heated up from one to the other via a process like dousing it in fuel and setting it on fire like a wick, a heat pulse pushes the electrons through the many carbon nanotubes pretty much like a wave pushes surfers on the ocean.
While the device is only 1% efficient at converting heat into electricity, it’s already as good as most of today’s batteries. And while lithium ion technology had some 25 years to reach the level at which it is today, the new technology only had a fifth of that time.
Since any type of fuel is needed to start the reaction, the researchers went with sucrose. But other combustive materials would most likely produce a much higher energy output. So, the researchers are currently experimenting with which fuel type would work best in the devices.
But the best parts about the energy source are that it is fully renewable source, that unlike batteries it has an unlimited shelf life, and that it is extremely scalable and versatile, able to be adapted for use with pretty much any power-requiring device.
According to Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh, a professor not involved in the study,
We are still far from the upper limit that the thermopower wave devices can potentially reach. However, this step makes the technology more attractive for real applications.
Image source: Wikimedia