The research of Paul Thibado, professor of physics at the University of Arkansas, shows that energy can be created with ambient temperature and two-dimensional materials, which are substances with a thickness of a few nanometers or less. By comparison, a strand of DNA is about 2.5 nanometers in diameter. Thibado plans to use his research to produce a device that will charge a capacitor using only ambient heat and two-dimensional materials.
Thibado expects to create the device within a year with the support of NTS Innovations, a nanotechnology company based in East Peoria, Ill., that has licensed this patent-pending technology from the university, according to the UA. NTS focuses on commercialization of nanotechnology and environmentally sustainable heating, water filtration and purification and green energy by using two-dimensional materials.
Thibado and his colleague, assistant professor Pradeep Kumar, discovered the potential of two-dimensional materials while studying the motion of graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon. They noticed that the graphene had a rippled structure, and each ripple would flip up and down as a response to ambient temperature.
In his research, Thibado designed a device called a Vibration Energy Harvester. The device is a negatively charged sheet of graphene suspended between two metal electrodes. As the ripples in the graphene flip up, they create a positive charge in the top electrode, and when they flip down, they create a positive charge in the bottom one, creating an alternating current.
The graphene Thibado used in his lab was about 10 microns wide, or nearly 10,000 times wider than a nanometer, and more than 20,000 of them could fit on the head of a pin. Each ripple in the graphene is 10 nanometers by 10 nanometers and can produce as much as 10 picowatts of power, which is enough energy to power a wristwatch. They don’t need charging because they receive their energy from ambient heat.
“This is by far the most exciting project I’ve seen,” said Charles Woodson, director of research and technology at NTS Innovations. Woodson, who has worked in the energy and nanotechnology fields for more than 50 years, sees several uses for Thibado’s discovery, including the development of sustainable, decentralized energy systems throughout the world, for biomedical and remote sensing devices, improved solar and wind production and to capture waste heat.