Image: craig forrester, under Creative Commons license
News from researcher Dr. Long Que, at Louisiana Tech University, could be one of the most promising breakthrough in energy efficiency ever, as well as a powerful new tool for realizing alternative energies. Que reports designing and successfully fabricating a device that can harvest energy from heat wasted by electronic gadgets, solar energy, or any other system with heat cycles. Why is this so exciting? This technology could provide a step-change in energy efficiency in almost every tool and product we use, without requiring people to change their behavior. The device, called a CNF-PZT Cantilever, consists of a carbon nanotube film on a cantilever base of piezoelectric material. When the carbon nanotube film absorbs thermal energy (from heat or light), it forces the cantilever to bend. The cyclical bending generates an electric current in the piezoelectric material.
Piezoelectric energy harvesting is not new. It has been touted as the key to capturing human energy from sidewalks and dance floors. The difference in this breakthrough is scale. Thousands of small CNF-PZT Cantilevers could be designed into devices, allowing them to harvest their own wasted energy.
According to the press release:
Que's research team showed that the device could generate enough power to adequately operate some low-power microsensors and integrated sensors. One of the most unique and innovative aspects of this energy harvesting system is its ability to "self-reciprocate" - the perpetual production of energy without needing to consume other external energy sources.
Of course, the hazards of nanotechnology need to be better understood and well controlled. But the benefits of nano-cantilevers harvesting waste energy, and possibly even powering everything from spacecraft to tiny medical implants, beckon with an allure fueled by sci-fi imagination.
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