Twist up the power: carbon nanotube yarn as future power generator

click to enlargeTwist and Shout! The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, in collaboration with scientists from the University of Texas at Dallas and Hanyan University in South Korea, have developed carbon nanotube-based “twistron” yarns that when coiled and paired with ionic material, become supercapacitors. These twisted bundles of individual nanotubes, each of which is 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, when pulled and stretched generate electrical power. Ionic material can be an electrolyte, ocean water or even human sweat.

This development opens up opportunities in healthcare technology areas such as polymer-graphene thin skin adhering sensors for continuous monitoring that stretch or look like temporary tattoos [TTA 3 Feb] which need more power longer than available now.

The energy-generating capacities of the yarn were tested in a variety of interesting ways.  Researchers attached it to an artificial muscle that contracted and expanded, converting the change in temperature into electrical energy. When they were sewn into a shirt, they were used to monitor and sense changes in respiration. They were even immersed in South Korea’s Gyeonpo Sea to demonstrate how they can harvest the energy of ocean waves. The team is still working to better understand how the twistron yarns work by examining their carbon nanotube structure at the nanoscale, the three-dimensional structure of the yarns and how their structure changes when they are deformed. (The photo above left, captured by x-ray tomography, is a 3-D rendering of the coiled nanotube fibers and provides information on the structures, defects and interfaces internal to the fibers at the nanoscale.)

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