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Nanotube Yarn Generates Enough Electricity to Keep the Lights On

August 24, 2017

Behold "twistron," a new kind of yarn that converts movement into an impressive amount of electrical current. According to research published today in Science (abstract), twistron is made by spinning carbon nanotubes—which are very good at conducting electricity—into a yarn and then twisting that up into a coil. Dipping twistron in an electrolyte imbues it with its electrical properties, so that it generates a small jolt when stretched, as in the GIF above.

There are a couple of things twistron could be used for. The researchers envision a device that harvests energy from wave action, for example, or it could be woven into clothing and used as a motion sensor. And lest you think these scientists weren't willing to demonstrate the practicability of their invention, there's this little tidbit from the news release:

In a proof-of-concept demonstration, co-lead author Dr. Shi Hyeong Kim, a postdoctoral researcher at the NanoTech Institute, waded into the frigid surf off the east coast of South Korea to deploy a coiled twistron in the sea. He attached a 10 centimeter-long yarn, weighing only 1 milligram (about the weight of a mosquito), between a balloon and a sinker that rested on the seabed.

Every time an ocean wave arrived, the balloon would rise, stretching the yarn up to 25 percent, thereby generating measured electricity.

Dr. Kim's Ben Franklin moment aside, twistron does generate a lot of juice for such a light material: the researchers calculate that a kilogram of the stuff stretched 30 times a second could put out 250 watts of power. The big question, as ever, is whether Kim's team or anyone else will figure out how to produce twistron cheaply and in large quantities.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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