Nano-based Yarns Generate Electricity

An international research team led by scientists at The University of Texas at Dallas and Hanyang University in South Korea has developed high-tech yarns that generate electricity when they are stretched or twisted.

In a study published in the journal Science, researchers describe “twistronyarns and their possible applications, such as harvesting energy from the motion of ocean waves or from temperature fluctuations. When sewn into a shirt, these yarns served as a self-powered breathing monitor.

The easiest way to think of twistron harvesters is, you have a piece of yarn, you stretch it, and out comes electricity,” said Dr. Carter Haines BS’11, PhD’15, associate research professor in the Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute at UT Dallas and co-lead author of the article. The article also includes researchers from South Korea, Virginia Tech, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and China.

Coiled carbon nanotube yarns, created at The University of Texas at Dallas and imaged here with a scanning electron microscope, generate electrical energy when stretched or twisted.
The yarns are constructed from carbon nanotubes, which are hollow cylinders of carbon 10,000 times smaller in diameter than a human hair. The researchers first twist-spun the nanotubes into high-strength, lightweight yarns. To make the yarns highly elastic, they introduced so much twist that the yarns coiled like an over-twisted rubber band.

In order to generate electricity, the yarns must be either submerged in or coated with an ionically conducting material, or electrolyte, which can be as simple as a mixture of ordinary table salt and water.

Fundamentally, these yarns are supercapacitors,” said Dr. Na Li, a research scientist at the NanoTech Institute and co-lead author of the study. “In a normal capacitor, you use energy — like from a battery — to add charges to the capacitor. But in our case, when you insert the carbon nanotube yarn into an electrolyte bath, the yarns are charged by the electrolyte itself. No external battery, or voltage, is needed.

When a harvester yarn is twisted or stretched, the volume of the carbon nanotube yarn decreases, bringing the electric charges on the yarn closer together and increasing their energy, Haines said. This increases the voltage associated with the charge stored in the yarn, enabling the harvesting of electricity.


Battery That Could Be Recharged 200,000 Times

Scientists have long sought to use nanowires in batteries. Thousands of times thinner than a human hair, they’re highly conductive and feature a large surface area for the storage and transfer of electrons. However, these filaments are extremely fragile and don’t hold up well to repeated discharging and recharging, or cycling. In a typical lithium-ion battery, they expand and grow brittle, which leads to cracking.

Researchers fron the University of California Irvine (UCI) have solved this problem by coating a gold nanowire in a manganese dioxide shell and encasing the assembly in an electrolyte made of a Plexiglas-like gel. The combination is reliable and resistant to failure.

Mya Le Thai

The study leader, UCI doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai, cycled the testing electrode up to 200,000 times over three months without detecting any loss of capacity or power and without fracturing any nanowires. The findings were published today in the American Chemical Society’s Energy Letters. Hard work combined with serendipity paid off in this case, according to senior author Reginald Penner.

Mya was playing around, and she coated this whole thing with a very thin gel layer and started to cycle it,” said Penner, chair of UCI’s chemistry department. “She discovered that just by using this gel, she could cycle it hundreds of thousands of times without losing any capacity”.

That was crazy,” he added, “because these things typically die in dramatic fashion after 5,000 or 6,000 or 7,000 cycles at most.


How To Store 10 Times More Energy In A Li-ion Battery

Scientists have been trying for years to make a practical lithium-ion battery anode out of silicon, which could store 10 times more energy per charge than today’s commercial anodes and make high-performance batteries a lot smaller and lighter. But two major problems have stood in the way: Silicon particles swell, crack and shatter during battery charging, and they react with the battery electrolyte to form a coating that saps their performance. Now, a team from Stanford University and the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has come up with a possible solution: Wrap each and every silicon anode particle in a custom-fit cage made of graphene, a pure form of carbon that is the thinnest and strongest material known and a great conductor of electricity.

In a report published Jan. 25 in Nature Energy, they describe a simple, three-step method for building microscopic graphene cages of just the right size: roomy enough to let the silicon particle expand as the battery charges, yet tight enough to hold all the pieces together when the particle falls apart, so it can continue to function at high capacity. The strong, flexible cages also block destructive chemical reactions with the electrolyte.

graphene_cageThis time-lapse movie from an electron microscope shows the new battery material in action: a silicon particle expanding and cracking inside a graphene cage while being charged. The cage holds the pieces of the particle together and preserves its electrical conductivity and performance

In testing, the graphene cages actually enhanced the electrical conductivity of the particles and provided high charge capacity, chemical stability and efficiency,” said Yi Cui, an associate professor at SLAC and Stanford who led the research. “The method can be applied to other electrode materials, too, making energy-dense, low-cost battery materials a realistic possibility.

This new method allows us to use much larger silicon particles that are one to three microns, or millionths of a meter, in diameter, which are cheap and widely available,” Cui adds. “In fact, the particles we used are very similar to the waste created by milling silicon ingots to make semiconductor chips; they’re like bits of sawdust of all shapes and sizes. Particles this big have never performed well in battery anodes before, so this is a very exciting new achievement, and we think it offers a practical solution.