Engineers propose to cover the ocean with smart yarn

Twistrons, made from carbon nanotubes (CNTs), convert mechanical motion into electricity.

Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallascreated a new type of twistron by twisting three separate strands of twisted carbon nanotubes into a single strand. Their method is similar to that of ordinary yarn used in textiles.

The study found that a new yarn made from carbon nanotubes could generate electricity from mechanical energy better than any other material to date.

Researchers say high-techfilaments, known as twistrons, can be sewn into clothing to generate electricity from human movement, or deployed in the ocean to collect wave energy.

Electromagnetic generators, which are essentiallyfunction as electric motors operating in reverse, have long been used to convert the mechanical energy of wind and water into electricity. While they work well on a large scale, they perform much worse on a smaller scale. So researchers have explored a wide range of materials to harvest mechanical energy, such as using body movements to power wearable electronics.

Scientists first reported the invention of twistronsabout five years ago. They created these materials by turning carbon nanotubes into high-strength, lightweight fibers that can also include electrolytes. Twisting or stretching these threads increases their density, which in turn creates a voltage that can drive an electrical current.

“Our dream in the future is to be able touse our twistrons to harvest mechanical energy in the oceans to power cities,” says senior study author Ray Bowman, a materials scientist at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Previous studies have shown that twistronsshowed the highest peak power of any material when it came to harvesting energy from stretching movements at frequencies from 0.1 to 30 Hz. This made them potentially interesting for a wide range of applications, such as getting energy from clothes or the ocean. However, these prior twistrons had an energy conversion efficiency of 7.6% at best in both twisting and stretching.

In the new study, the scientists aimed to dramatically increase the efficiency of the Twistron. Now they have reached an efficiency of 17.4% in tension and 22.4% in twisting.

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