Skip to Content
77 Mass Ave

Power-grab particles

Particles made from crushed nanotubes can create a current by interacting with an organic solvent.

August 24, 2021
nanocarbon tubes model
nanocarbon tubes model
Getty

MIT engineers have discovered yet another use for carbon nanotubes: scavenging energy from the environment to generate a current that could drive chemical reactions or power tiny robots. 

Chemical engineer Michael Strano and his students created electricity-­generating particles by grinding up carbon nanotubes, forming them into a sheet coated on one side with a Teflon-like polymer, and cutting out pieces 250 by 250 microns in size.

When these particles are submerged in an organic solvent, the solvent adheres to the uncoated surface and begins pulling electrons out of them, forming an electrical current. Each particle can generate about 0.7 volts, and hundreds of them packed together yield enough energy to power alcohol oxidation, an organic reaction important in the chemical industry. Strano’s lab is also building micro- and nano-scale robots that could someday use this energy to serve as diagnostic or environmental sensors.

“This mechanism is new, and this way of generating energy is completely new,” Strano says. “This technology is intriguing because all you have to do is flow a solvent through a bed of these particles. This allows you to do electrochemistry, but with no wires.”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

travelers walk through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
travelers walk through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

We won’t know how bad omicron is for another month

Gene sequencing gave an early alert about the latest covid variant. But we'll only know if omicron is a problem by watching it spread.

Conceptual illustration showing a file folder with the China flag and various papers flying out of it
Conceptual illustration showing a file folder with the China flag and various papers flying out of it

The US crackdown on Chinese economic espionage is a mess. We have the data to show it.

The US government’s China Initiative sought to protect national security. In the most comprehensive analysis of cases to date, MIT Technology Review reveals how far it has strayed from its goals.

Passengers rest on the ticketing counter floor
Passengers rest on the ticketing counter floor

Why blanket travel bans won’t work to stop omicron

The aim was to stop the variant's spread, but these bans look like too little, too late.

Eight ways scientists are unwrapping the mysteries of the human brain

Optogenetics and advanced imaging have helped neuroscientists understand how memories form and made it possible to manipulate them.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.