Breakthrough energy scavenging carbon nanotube tech could banish wires forever

Carbon nanotubes could be the answer to a wireless future
(Image credit: Hello Games)

Imagine never having to charge your mouse or keyboard again, thanks to its incredible ability to scavenge and regenerate energy all by itself. That would be the dream. 

Today, MIT engineers have taken another step toward banishing the bane of wires, with a completely new way of generating energy. This is not a drill.

Cut the cord...

(Image credit: Steelseries)

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I hope this sends a shiver down the spines of oil barrens everywhere, because now scientists can generate energy using carbon nanotubes that effectively steal electrons from surrounding polymers. 

The tech is a follow up from previous carbon nanotube research by Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT. Back in 2010, Strano proved that thermopower waves—or heat pulses that create energy—could be generated by coating carbon nanotubes with a layer of fuel.

Now the research has been furthered by Strano and his team, and it's looking quite promising.

This time, the nanotubes had to be ground up and made into particle sheets that were then covered in a Teflon-like polymer coating for 'asymmetry'. Once they were cut to the necessary size and submerged in an electron-hungry organic solution such as acetonitrile, BAM, the energy scavenging could begin.

"This technology is intriguing," says Strano, "Because all you have to do is flow a solvent through a bed of these particles. This allows you to do electrochemistry, but with no wires."

The process can only generate 0.7 volts of electricity per particle at this point, so it may be a while before your peripherals are generating their own energy. But at least Strano is working on a way to regenerate the necessary polymer coating using carbon dioxide as a building material, through a solar-powered process akin to photosynthesis. 

It's likely this new method of generating energy will be invaluable across the chemical industry, and could even power tiny micro- and nano-bots—you know, for government mind control. Or like… actual science.

Who knows, years from now we might look back at our wire-laden desks and cringe, as we dubiously hold our mice out of the window for a quick recharge.

Katie Wickens
Hardware Writer

Screw sports, Katie would rather watch Intel, AMD and Nvidia go at it. Having been obsessed with computers and graphics for three long decades, she took Game Art and Design up to Masters level at uni, and has been demystifying tech and science—rather sarcastically—for three years since. She can be found admiring AI advancements, scrambling for scintillating Raspberry Pi projects, preaching cybersecurity awareness, sighing over semiconductors, and gawping at the latest GPU upgrades. She's been heading the PCG Steam Deck content hike, while waiting patiently for her chance to upload her consciousness into the cloud.