While on sabbatical from RMIT University in Melbourne, Associate Professor Dr Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, joined MIT Associate Professor Michael Strano’s nanotechnology research group and together accidentally discovered a new way to generate power.
Their work was published in the December IEEE Spectrum Magazine, the publication of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), entitled ‘Nanodynamite: Fuel-coated nanotubes could provide bursts of power to the smallest systems’.
The MIT-led team were measuring the acceleration of a chemical reaction along a nanotube when they found that the reaction they were monitoring actually generated power. Now, Dr Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh and Michael Strano are combining their expertise in chemistry and nanomaterials to explore this phenomenon.
Associate Professor Kalantar-zadeh said that his experimental system, based on one of the materials that have come from nanotechnology — carbon nanotubes — generates power, something researchers had not seen before.
“By coating a nanotube in nitrocellulose fuel and igniting one end, we set off a combustion wave along it and learned that a nanotube is an excellent conductor of heat from burning fuel. Even better, the combustion wave creates a strong electric current,” he said.
“Our discovery that a thermopower wave works best across these tubes because of their dual conductivity turns conventional thermoelectricity on its head.
“It’s the first viable nanoscale approach to power generation that exploits the thermoelectric effect by overcoming the feasibility issues associated with minimising dimensions.
“But there are multiple angles to explore when it comes to taming these exotic waves and, ultimately, finding out if they’re the wave of the future.”