Researchers say they have discovered an unusual property of graphene that means it could be a "clean and limitless" source of energy in the future.
The scientists from the University of Arkansas studied the movement of graphene, the so-called "miracle material" that's composed of a single layer of carbon atoms, first discovered in 2004.
Its existence is a bit of quandary, however, as graphene is essentially a two-dimensional material that shouldn't exist. But thanks to a loophole, namely that the carbon atoms that make up graphene are fluctuating, it is able to exist. This is known as Brownian motion.
In this research, published in Physical Review Letters, Paul Thibado from the University of Arkansas and his students observed the movement of graphene under a scanning tunneling microscope (STM). At incredibly small scales, they found there was not only Brownian motion but also larger movements of the graphene sheet itself, with the atoms moving together.
“This is the key to using the motion of 2D materials as a source of harvestable energy,” Thibado said, reported Research Frontiers.
Using a graphene sheet that measured 10 microns across, the researchers said they were able to produce about 10 microwatts of power continuously, without any loss. So it does sort of raise the possiblity of a clean and somewhat limitless source of energy.
In a video, Thibado explained how this motion could be used to replace batteries that we use today. Creating something called the Vibration Energy Harvester (VEH), he showed how a negatively charged sheet of graphene between two electrodes could produce an alternating current.
"If you had this powering your watch for example, you would never have to replace the batteries," he said in the video. "If you could have a battery alternative that you didn't have to go and replace, imagine all the things you could do."
In addition, the technology has the potential to allow any object to send, receive, and store information, powered solely by the heat of being at room temperature.
Graphene has a number of other purported uses, including making more advanced solar cells, thinner television screens, and much more. The idea of it also being a battery replacement, well, that will surely only add to its allure.