What Are the Latest Developments in Generating Electricity?

Updated on September 10, 2019
1701TheOriginal profile image

Leonard Kelley holds a bachelor's in physics with a minor in mathematics. He loves the academic world and strives to constantly explore it.

Source

Our society demands power on an increasing basis, and so we need to find new and creative ways to meet these callings. Scientists have gotten creative, and below are but a few of the recent advancements in making electricity in new and novel ways.

Salt Water Meets Graphene

Turns out, given the right conditions, your pencil tips and ocean water can be utilized to make electricity. Researchers from China found that if a drop of salt water is dragged across a graphene slice at different velocities generates a voltage at a linear rate – that is, changes in velocity are directly related to the changes in voltage. This result seems to be coming from an unbalanced charge distribution of the water as it moves, unable to acclimate to the charges both inside it and on the graphene. This means that nanogenerators can become practical – someday (Patel).

Graphene
Graphene | Source

Graphene Sheets

But it turns out that sheet of graphene can also do the job of generating electricity when we stretch it out. This is because it is a piezoelectric, a material formed from single-atom thickness sheets whose polarization can be changed based on the orientation of the material. By stretching the sheet, the polarization grows and causes electron flow to increase. But the number of sheets does play a role, for researchers found that even-numbered stacks produced no polarization but odd-numbered ones did, with diminishing voltages as the stacking grew (Saxena “Graphene”).

Fresh Water vs. Salt Water

It’s possible to use the differences between salt and fresh water to extract electricity from ions stored between them. The key is osmotic power, or the drive of fresh water towards salt water to create a fully heterogeneous solution. By using an atom-thin-sheet of MoS2, scientist were able to achieve nanoscaling tunnels that allowed certain ions to transverse between the two solutions because of electric surface charges limiting passages (Saxena “Single”).

Carbon nanotube.
Carbon nanotube. | Source

Carbon Nanotubes

One of the biggest material developments of the recent past has been carbon nanotubes, or small cylindrical structures of carbon that have many amazing properties such as high strength and symmetrical structuring. Another great property they have is electron liberation, and recent work has shown that when nanotubes were twisted around into a helical pattern and stretched, the “internal strain and friction” cause electrons to be freed. When the cord is dipped in water, it allows the charges to be collected. Over a full cycle, the cord generated as much as 40 joules of energy (Timmer “Carbon”).

Building a More Heat-Efficient Battery

Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to take the energy our devices generate as heat and somehow convert back into useable energy? After all, we are trying to fight the heat death of the Universe. But the issue is most technologies need a large temperature differential to be utilized, and its way more than that which our tech generates. Researchers from MIT and Stanford have been working on improving the technology though. They found that a specific copper reaction had a lower voltage requirement for charging than it did at a higher temperature, but the catch was a charging current was needed to be supplied. That is where reactions of different iron-potassium-cyanide compounds came into play. Temperature differentials would cause the cathodes and the anodes to switch roles, meaning that as the device heated and then cooled it would still produce a current in the opposite direction and with a new voltage. However, with all of this considered the efficiency of this setup is a measly 2%, but as with any emergent tech improvements are likely to be made (Timmer “Researchers”).

Building a More Solar-Efficient Cell

Solar panels are notorious as being the way of the future but still lacking the efficiency many desire. That may change with the invention of dye-sensitized solar cells. Scientists took a look at the photovoltaic material used to collect light for the purpose of making electricity and found a way to change the properties of it using dyes. This new material readily took in electrons, kept them easier which helped prevent their escape, and allowed for a better electron flow which also opened the door to more wavelengths to be collected. This is in part because the dyes have a ring-like structure that encourages strict electron flow. For the electrolyte, a new copper-based solution was found instead of expensive metals, helping to lower costs but increasing the weight because of the need to bond the copper to carbon in order to minimize short-circuiting. The most interesting part? This new cell is most efficient in indoor lighting, nearly 29%. The best solar cells out there currently only fair at 20% when indoors. This could open up a new door to collecting background energy sources (Timmer “New”).

How can we increase the efficiency of solar panels? After all, what holds back most photovoltaic cells from converting all the solar photons striking it into electricity is the wavelength restrictions. Light has many different wavelength components and when you couple this with the necessary restrictions to excite the solar cells and so only 20% of it becomes electricity with this system. An alternative would be solar thermal cells, which take the photons and convert them into heat, which is then converted into electricity. But even this system peaks at 30% efficiency and it requires a lot of space for it to work and needs the light to be focused to generate heat. But what if the two were combined into one? (Giller).

That is what MIT researchers looked into. They were able to develop a solar-thermophotovoltaic device which combines the best of both technologies by converting the photons into heat first and having carbon nanotubes absorbing that. They are great for this purpose and also have the added benefit of being able to absorb nearly the entire solar spectrum. As the heat is transferred through the tubes, it ends up in a photonic crystal layered with silicon and silicon dioxide which at about 1000 degrees Celsius starts to glow. This results in an emission of photons which are more suitable for stimulating electrons. However, this device is only at 3% efficiency but with growth it can likely be improved upon (Ibid).

Source

Alternative to Lithium Ion Batteries

Remember when those phones were catching on fire? That was because of a lithium-ion issue. But what exactly is a lithium-ion battery? It is a liquid electrolyte involving an organic solvent and dissolved salts. Ions in this mix flow with ease over a membrane which then induces a current. The major catch to this system is dendrite formation, aka microscopic lithium fibers. They can build up and cause short circuits which lead to heat ups and...fire! Surely there must be an alternative to this...somewhere (Sedacces 23).

Cyrus Rustomji (University of California at San Diego) may have a solution: gas-based batteries. The solvent would be a liquefied floronethane gas instead of the organic one. The battery was charged and drained 400 times and then compared to its lithium counterpart. The charge it held was nearly the same as the initial charge but the lithium was only 20% its original capacity. Another advantage the gas had was lack of flammability. If punctured, a lithium battery will interact with the oxygen in the air and cause a reaction, but in the case of the gas it just releases into the air as it loses pressure and will not explode. And as an added bonus, the gas battery operates at -60 degrees Celsius. How heating the battery impacts its performance remains to be seen (Ibid).

Works Cited

Patel, Yogi. “Flowing salt water over graphene generates electricity.” Arstechnica.com. Conte Nast., 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 06 Sept. 2018.

Saxena, Shalini. “Graphene-like substance generates electricity when stretched.” Arstechnica.com. Conte Nast., 28 Oct. 2014. Web. 07 Sept. 2018.

---. “Single-atom-thick sheets efficiently extract electricity from salt water.” Arstechnica.com. Conte Nast., 21 Jul. 2016. Web. 24 Sept. 2018.

Sedacces, Matthew. "Better Batteries." Scientific American Oct. 2017. Print. 23.

Timmer, John. “Carbon nanotube ‘yarn’ generates electricity when stretched.” Arstechnica.com. Conte Nast., 24 Aug. 2017. Web. 13 Sept. 2018.

---. “New device can harvest indoor light to power electronics.” Arstechnica.com. Conte Nast., 05 May 2017. Web. 13 Sept. 2018.

---. “Researchers craft a battery that can be recharged with waste heat.” Arstechnica.com. Conte Nast., 18 Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Sept. 2018.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Leonard Kelley

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)