Clean, Unlimited Energy
Physicists at the University of Arkansas have invented a nano-scale power generator that could potentially use the movement of graphene to produce clean, unlimited energy. Called a Vibration Energy Harvester, this development provides evidence for the theory that two-dimensional materials could be a source of usable energy.
Paul Thibado, a professor of physics at the university, got the idea for the generator after his team observed some strange, microscopic movements in sheets of graphene, which is made up of a single layer of carbon atoms. After laying out the sheets over a copper scaffold, the team was confused by the images they were collecting with a microscope.
Then they tried narrowed their focus and “separated each image into sub-images,” Thibado said in a Research Frontiers article. “Looking at large-scale averages hid the different patterns. Each region of a single image, when viewed over time, produced a more meaningful pattern.”
Once they started analyzing the sheets point-by-point, they made an amazing discovery — the graphene was essentially rippling, flipping up and down through a combination of small, random motions and larger, sudden movements known as Lévy flights. This was the first time such movement had been observed in an inorganic, atomic-scale system. The team determined that the movements were due to ambient heat at room temperature.
Because of graphene’s sheet-like nature, its atoms vibrated in tandem, which sets it apart from the random vibrations you would see in, say, molecules of a liquid. Thibado said to Research Frontiers, “This is the key to using the motion of 2D-materials as a source of harvestable energy.” The tandem vibrations cause ripples in the graphene sheet from which we can harness energy using the latest nanotechnology.
The researchers then designed a tiny generator to do just that. This device could have a drastic impact on our access to clean, unlimited energy. It could allow our tech to send, receive, process, or store information, powered solely by the heat available at room temperature. This clearly could have remarkable and widely varied applications.
Now, while Thibado has applied for a patent and is insistent on the potential of this device, it has yet to be proven effective. It has remarkable possibilities, but we will have to see how the prototype of the tiny electric generator turns out before we know whether it is a viable energy solution. But, if the claims of this team prove to be true, it could revolutionize not only how we create energy, but the devices that we are capable of creating.
One potential application is medical devices. Current medical implants often require batteries. And, while these batteries are long-lasting, a self-charging device that relies on microscopic graphene movement could allow devices to be both smaller and more effective in the long-run. Thibado remarked on this possibility to Research Frontiers, saying “Self-powering enables smart bio-implants, which would profoundly impact society.”
This could extend into a range of biomedical applications. Microscopic, self-powering capabilities could be remarkably helpful for hearing devices which often require frequent, expensive, bulky battery changes. Pace-makers and wearable sensors could also improve from such tech.
Graphene could also power non-medical wearable technologies. From “smart” graphene fashion to in-ear translators and wearable cryptocurrency, devices that blend with our organic shapes and movement are becoming increasingly popular and capable.
While this unique application of graphene is new and has yet to be fully proven, Thibado and his team will continue to explore the unique material’s potential as a clean, unlimited energy source. Such a power source would be game-changing, as it could immeasurably advance technologies that are becoming more compatible with our own human biology.
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The Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) has developed new battery material, made from a “graphene ball,” which could potentially deliver charging speeds five times faster than today’s lithium ion batteries. Samsung announced the new material in a press release this past Wednesday, November 28.
But just how fast is this new material? Well, in theory, this graphene ball material only needs about 12 minutes to achieve a hundred percent charge. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this breakthrough material comes from graphene. The 2D-material has long been regarded as a wonder material because of its combination of unique properties. Graphene, among other things, is strong, durable, and highly conductive.
SAIT researchers, led by Son In-hyuk, developed a mechanism that allows for graphene to be mass synthesized into a 3D popcorn-like form using silica (SiO2). The graphene ball, in this technique, is applied to both the anode protective layers and the cathode materials in lithium-ion batteries.
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While persistent efforts in phone design and software optimization have got us to the point where our handsets can now last a day on a single charge, there’s work to be done yet if we’re heading for a future rife with VR and AR apps. To that end, Samsung says it’s inching closer to making better batteries, thanks to its breakthroughs in using graphene in place of lithium, which currently powers most phones and electric vehicles. It’s developed the carbon allotrope into what it’s calling a ‘graphene ball’, and claims that a battery made with this material will be able…
This story continues at The Next Web
By all measures, graphene shouldn’t exist. The fact it does comes down to a neat loophole in physics that sees an impossible 2D sheet of atoms act like a solid 3D material.
New research has delved into graphene’s rippling, discovering a physical phenomenon on an atomic scale that could be exploited as a way to produce a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
The team of physicists led by researchers from the University of Arkansas didn’t set out to discover a radical new way to power electronic devices.
Their aim was far more humble – to simply watch how graphene shakes.
We’re all familiar with the gritty black carbon-based material called graphite, which is commonly combined with a ceramic material to make the so-called ‘lead’ in pencils.
What we see as smears left by the pencil are actually stacked sheets of carbon atoms arranged in a ‘chicken wire’ pattern. Since these sheets aren’t bonded together, they slide easily over one another.
For years scientists wondered if it was possible to isolate single sheets of graphite, leaving a 2-dimensional plane of carbon ‘chicken wire’ to stand on its own.
In 2004 a pair of physicists from the University of Manchester achieved the impossible, isolating sheets from a lump of graphite that were just an atom thick.
To exist, the 2D material had to be cheating in some way, acting as a 3D material in order to provide some level of robustness.
It turns out the ‘loophole’ was the random jiggling of atoms popping back and forth, giving the 2D sheet of graphene a handy third dimension.
In other words, graphene was possible because it wasn’t perfectly flat at all, but vibrated on an atomic level in such a way that its bonds didn’t spontaneously unravel.
To accurately measure the level of this jiggling, physicist Paul Thibado recently led a team of graduate students in a simple study.
They laid sheets of graphene across a supportive copper grid and observed the changes in the atoms’ positions using a scanning tunneling microscope.
While they could record the bobbing of atoms in the graphene, the numbers didn’t really fit any expected model. They couldn’t reproduce the data they were collecting from one trial to the next.
“The students felt we weren’t going to learn anything useful,” says Thibado, “but I wondered if we were asking too simple a question.”
Thibado pushed the experiment into a different direction, searching for a pattern by changing the way they looked at the data.
“We separated each image into sub-images,” says Thibado.
“Looking at large-scale averages hid the different patterns. Each region of a single image, when viewed over time, produced a more meaningful pattern.”
The team quickly found the sheets of graphene were buckling in way not unlike the snapping back and forth of a bent piece of thin metal as it’s twisted from the sides.
Patterns of small, random fluctuations combining to form sudden, dramatic shifts are known as Lévy flights. While they’ve been observed in complex systems of biology and climate, this was the first time they’d been seen on an atomic scale.
By measuring the rate and scale of these graphene waves, Thibado figured it might be possible to harness it as an ambient temperature power source.
So long as the graphene’s temperature allowed the atoms to shift around uncomfortably, it would continue to ripple and bend.
Place electrodes to either side of sections of this buckling graphene, and you’d have a tiny shifting voltage.
This video clip below explains the process in detail:
By Thibado’s calculations, a single ten micron by ten micron piece of graphene could produce ten microwatts of power.
It mightn’t sound impressive, but given you could fit more than 20,000 of these squares on the head of a pin, a small amount of graphene at room temperature could feasibly power something small like a wrist watch indefinitely.
Better yet, it could power bioimplants that don’t need cumbersome batteries.
As exciting as they are, these applications still need to be investigated. Fortunately Thibado is already working with scientists at the US Naval Research Laboratory to see if the concept has legs.
For an impossible molecule, graphene has become something of a wonder material that has turned physics on its head.
It’s already being touted as a building block for future conductors. Perhaps we’ll also be seeing it power the future of a new field of electronic devices as well.
This research was published in Physical Review Letters.
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Synthesizing Pure Graphene
Researchers have been singing the praises of graphene ever since it was first isolated from graphite back in 2004. That’s not terribly surprising given the unique properties the two-dimensional material possesses. Graphene has since proven useful for everything from superconductors to microchips to tougher-than-steel rubber bands, but despite the wealth of research, manufacturing graphene for large-scale commercial use has remained problematic — the process is simply too costly and complicated.
University of Connecticut chemistry professor Doug Adamson might be able to change that. He and his colleagues have figured out a cost-effective way to synthesize this wonder material, and perhaps best of all, Adamson claims his method synthesizes graphene in its pure, unoxidized form. The research has been published in ACS Nano.
Adamson’s method takes advantage of one of graphene’s typically undesirable characteristics: its insolubility to most solvents. After placing graphite in an interface of water and oil, the material spreads spontaneously to cover the interface. There, it becomes trapped in individual, overlapping graphene sheets that can be locked in place using plastic or other cross-linked polymers.
“The innovation and technology behind our material is our ability to use a thermodynamically driven approach to un-stack graphite into its constituent graphene sheets, and then arrange those sheets into a continuous, electrically conductive, three-dimensional structure,” Adamson explained in a UConn press release.
Its Best Behavior
The “graphene” most researchers use in their studies is an oxidized version of the material. Adding oxygen to graphene makes it easier to work with, but it also increases the cost, requires the use of hazardous materials, and adds time to the manufacturing process. It also reduces graphene’s mechanical, thermal, and electrical properties — essentially what makes graphene great.
“The simplicity of our approach is in stark contrast to current techniques used to exfoliate graphite that rely on aggressive oxidation or high-energy mixing or sonication — the application of sound energy to separate particles — for extended periods of time,” Adamson said. “As straightforward as our process is, no one else had reported it. We proved it works.”
Now that Adamson’s team has found a way to produce this pristine graphene, they’re looking forward to potential applications. One of those is desalination. The group created a startup, 2D Material Technologies, that is working on a device that uses their pure graphene and a process known as capacitive deionization (CDI) to remove salt from brackish water.
While much has already been accomplished using graphene, a technique like Adamson’s that can easily be scaled up for the mass production of the material could lead to an explosion of new research and commercial applications. A bit more than a decade after its discovery, all the wonder of graphene could finally be taken advantage of in a meaningful way.
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Be Like Water
In graphene, electrons move in strange ways. Their unusual and fluid-like behavior was observed by scientists at the National Graphene Institute, leading to a new wave of studies related to the physics of conductive materials.
Three experiments were conducted, including one at the University of Manchester, in collaboration with physicists led by Professor Marco Polini and Professor Leonid Levitov. The results of the tests showed how — withing a specific range of temperatures — electrons move and collide so often they eventually flow like a viscous fluid.
This fluid is more conductive than ballistic electrons — electrons that move throughout the material in a scatter-pattern manner. Instead of remaining separate, electrons in this new fluidic state work together without impeding the flow of current, which is how move and provide power to everyday electronics. Typically, the scattering pattern impacts this flow, making a material less conductive. Think of a weakened flickering light.
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A New Graphene Production Method
Nanotechnologists from Rice University and China’s Tianjin University have come up with a way to make centimeter-sized objects of atomically thin graphene that’s pretty sweet. The method is simple, can be performed at room temperature, and only requires sugar and nickel in a process called “3D laser printing.” Due to the printing method, the scientists were able to control the shapes to the level of the pore and make them 99 percent air — retaining graphene’s lightness.
This is a landmark for the “miracle material” — composed of a single atomic layer of hexagonally linked carbon — which has paradigm-shifting potential due to its high strength (200 times stronger than steel) and conductivity.
“3D laser printing” differs from the commercially available 3D printing. Instead of sculpting using melted plastic pressed through the end of a thin needle, this process melts or “sinters” powders with a laser. Then, a new powder is applied to the cooled and solid layer beneath it, ultimately forming an object layer by layer.
After they realized that applying this form of printing to nickel and sugar produced graphene when the mixture cooled, the team optimized the time and laser power required to produce the material. The researchers recently published their results in the journal ACS Nano.
Co-lead author of the study Junwei Sha, a postdoctoral researcher at Tianjin University, said in an interview for a Rice press release that this is also a customizable process: “We should also be able to use this process to produce specific types of graphene foam like 3D printed rebar graphene (graphene reinforced with carbon nanotubes) as well as both nitrogen-and sulfur-doped graphene foam by changing the precursor powders.”
The Potential of Graphene
Graphene has been one of the most discussed materials of the decade, with possible applications in diverse fields ranging from increasing upload rates, to being used in quantum computers, to cleaning seawater, to bionic implants.
However, its progress has been impeded by our inability to mass-produce it — a problem which this process could solve. Rice chemist James Tour stated in the press release, “We have shown how to make 3D graphene foams from non-graphene starting materials, and the method lends itself to being scaled to graphene foams for additive manufacturing applications.”
There have been been other promising methods suggested for the mass production of graphene, including the University of Kansas’ use of detonating carbon-containing materials, and Brookhaven National’s Laboratory’s idea to “piggyback” it on industrial-grade glass.
Currently, though, we have a wonder material that could help the world advance into a new scientific era, but no existing manufacturing process. Let’s hope one of the methods scales up successfully so we can open the door and step into an exciting future.
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