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

individual aging affects covid outcomes concept
individual aging affects covid outcomes concept

Anti-aging drugs are being tested as a way to treat covid

Drugs that rejuvenate our immune systems and make us biologically younger could help protect us from the disease’s worst effects.

close up of baby with a bottle
close up of baby with a bottle

The baby formula shortage has birthed a shady online marketplace

Desperate parents just want to feed their babies. They’re having to contend with misinformation, price gouging, and scams along the way.

"Olive Garden" NFTs concept
"Olive Garden" NFTs concept

I tried to buy an Olive Garden NFT. All I got was heartburn.

Our newest issue spells out what you need to know about the dizzying world of digital money.

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.