Clean and unlimited energy: Sourced from 2D material

Nicolas Meudt Autor, Hemd & Hoodie

Scientists have discovered a loophole in the form of the “miracle material” graphene that could be used to produce unlimited energy.

Unfortunately, this is no perpetual motion that, once started, will never stop moving and will do all the work without any additional energy input. The physical conditions on this planet mean that such a device will most likely remain nothing but a theory. However, scientists have now found a loophole that seems to break the laws of physics and could one day be used as a source for clean and unlimited energy.

To get a better understanding of how this new energy source works, we must go back to 2004, when two physicists managed to extract a single layer of carbon atoms from a piece of graphite. This, the first two-dimensional material, was given the name “graphene.” For this breakthrough, the two scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

Graphene exists thanks to strong vibrations

The existence of the 2D material is actually a paradox. It is only made possible through the aforementioned “loophole,” which is actually a strong vibration of atoms that lends the “miracle material” a third dimension. This phenomenon is known as Brownian motion and prevents the bonds between the carbon atoms from spontaneously breaking.

Thibado and his students use this scanning tunnelling microscope to monitor the graphene’s movement. Image: Research Frontiers – Paul Thibado & Wikipedia – Greg L (CC BY-SA 3.0) – (Montage)

A team of graduate students led by the physicist Paul Thibado wanted to investigate the precise extent of the graphene vibrations. However, the fluctuations measured in the study did not correspond with previous calculations and, according to the professor, the students began to feel that they “weren’t going to learn anything useful” from the graphene vibrations.

Energy harvested using nanotechnology

But then experts discovered that the fluctuations of the graphene waves may be substantial enough to generate energy. This is because, unlike the atoms in a liquid, which move in random directions, the atoms in a 2D material move together, meaning that their energy can be harvested using existing nanotechnology.

Thibado therefore began to develop a “Vibration Energy Harvester” that would turn energy into electricity. Image: Research Frontiers – Paul Thibado

In order to turn the harvested energy into electricity, and in doing so make it usable, Thibado began to develop a ”Vibration Energy Harvester.” The device will comprise a negatively charged sheet of graphene suspended between two metal electrodes. When the graphene moves upwards, it induces a positive charge to the upper electrodes. Then, when the 2-D material moves downwards, it charges the lower electrodes, thus generating an alternating current. The physicist has recently applied for a patent for his generator

Numerous potential applications

The graphene pieces in the physicist’s lab measure just 10 microns in diameter, and are therefore so tiny that more than 20,000 of them would fit on a pinhead. Despite this, each wave of the material generates 10 picowatts of power. According to the professor, a single piece would be enough to power a watch, without it ever showing signs of wearing out.

The self-charging energy source could one day supply electricity for biomedical devices such as pacemakers, hearing aids and wearable sensors.

This is why Thibado believes his generators offer a huge amount of potential. If the physicist is correct, they could be enabling devices to send, receive, process and save information in the foreseeable future. However, the microscopic energy sources have the potential to supply energy not only for everyday objects, but also for medical devices such as pacemakers, hearing aids or wearable sensors.

Cover photo: Flickr – CORE-Materials (CC BY-SA 2.0) – (Montage)

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