A nanoengineered graphene coating could make it possible to generate hydroelectric power without disrupting river ecosystems.
Humans have been harvesting the power of moving water for centuries, from waterwheel's to hydroelectric dams. The only problem with most of these technologies is that they disrupt the natural path and speed of the water, creating conflict with the wildlife that lives in and around it.
Now, researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a graphene coating that can be used to generate small amounts of electricity from water flowing over its surface. The application is intended for the oil exploration industry, but it could have positive implications for those who want to live off-grid.
Graphene is a thin flake of ordinary carbon - a mere one atom thick, yet 200 times as strong as steel. But the most amazing thing about graphene isn't its strength. It's ability to conduct both heat and electricity efficiently means that graphene could soon be used in innovative technologies such as transparent touch screens, light panels and even solar cells.
Using molecular dynamics simulations researchers discovered that when water flows over the graphene, chlorine ions present in the water stick to its surface. As the water flows, the friction force between the water flow and the layer of adsorbed chlorine ions causes the ions to drift along the flow direction. The motion of these ions drags the free charges present in graphene along with them, resulting in an internal current.
Material bathed in the graphene coating could be set up in high flow areas of a river or even the ocean in order to collect power from the water rushing by. Eventually, the technology could be improved to generate enough power for small electronic devices in a remote setting.
Researchers say that they look forward to testing the graphene coating in other situation, such as applying it onto the hull of a boat.
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