This Biofuel Cell Harvests Energy From Your Sweat

Researchers from l’Université Grenoble Alpes and the University of San Diego recently developed and patented a flexible device that’s able to produce electrical energy from human sweat. The lactate/O2 biofuel cell has been demonstrated to light an LED, leading to further development in the area of harvesting energy through wearables.

[via Advanced Functional Materials]
The research was published in Advanced Functional Materials on September 25, 2019. The potential use cases for this type of biofuel cell within the wearables space include medical and athletic monitoring. By using biofuels present in human fluids, the devices can rely on an efficient energy source that easily integrated with the human body.

Scientists have developed a flexible conductive material made up of carbon nanotubes, cross-linked polymers, and enzymes connected to each and printed through screen-printing. This type of composite is known as a buckypaper, and uses the carbon nanotubes as the electrode material.

The lactate oxidase works as the anode and the bilirubin oxidase (from the yellowish compound found in blood) as the cathode. Given the theoretical high power density of lactate, this technology has the potential to produce even more power than its current power generation of 450 µW.

[via Advanced Functional Materials]
The cell follows deformations in the skin and produces electrical energy through oxygen reduction and oxidation of the lactate in perspiration. A boost converter is used to increase the voltage to continuously power an LED. The biofuel cells currently delivered 0.74V of open circuit voltage. As measurements for power generation had to be taken with the biofuel cell against human skin, the device has shown to be productive even when stretched and compressed.

At the moment, the biggest cost for production is the price of the enzymes that transform the compounds in sweat. Beyond cost considerations, the researchers also need to look at ways to increase the voltage in order to power larger portable devices.

With all the exciting research surrounding wearable technology right now, hopefully we’ll be hearing about further developments and applications from this research group soon!

[Thanks to Qes for the tip!]

RISC-V Uses Carbon Nanotubes

In a recent article in Nature, you can find the details of a RISC-V CPU built using carbon nanotubes. Of course, Nature is a pricey proposition, but you can probably find the paper by its DOI number if you bother to look for it. The researchers point out that silicon transistors are rapidly reaching a point of diminishing returns. However, Carbon Nanotube Field Effect Transistors (CNFETs) overcome many of these disadvantages.

The disadvantage is that the fabrication of CNFETs has been somewhat elusive. The tubes tend to clump and yields are low. The paper describes a method that allowed the fabrication of a CPU with over 14,000 transistors. A wafer gets nanotubes grown all over it and then some of them are removed. In addition, some design rules mitigate other problems.

In particular, a small percentage of the CNFETs will become metallic and have little to no bandgap. However, the DREAM design rules can increase the tolerance of the design to metallic CNFETs with no process changes.

Before you get too excited, limitations in channel length and contact size keep the processor running at a blazing 10 kHz. To paraphrase Weird Al, your operating system boots in a day and a half. The density isn’t great either since working around stray and metallic CNFETs means each transistor has multiple nanotubes in use.

On the other hand, it works. New technology doesn’t always match old technology at first, but you have to crawl before you walk, and walk before you run.

We imagine you won’t be able to buy this for $8 any time soon even if you wanted to. At 10 kHz, it probably isn’t going to make much of a desktop PC anyway.

The Blackest Black, Now In Handy Pocket Size

If you thought “carbon nanotubes” were just some near-future unobtainium used in space elevators, don’t worry, you certainly aren’t alone. In reality, while the technology still has a way to go, carbon nanotube production has already exceeded several thousand tons per year and there are products you can buy today that are using this decidedly futuristic wonder material. Now there’s even one you can put in your pocket.

Created by [Simon], a designer in the UK, this small carbon nanotube array is described as “A simulated black hole” because the surface absorbs 99.9% of the visible light that hits it. Protected by a clear acrylic case, the sample of the material makes a circle that’s so black it gives the impression you’re looking into deep space. Unfortunately, no time-dilating gravitational forces are included at any of level of support in the ongoing Kickstarter campaign; but considering it was 100% funded in just a few hours, it seems like most people are OK with the trade-off.

[Simon] is well aware of the ongoing war between different methods of creating the “Blackest Black”, and he thinks he’s put his money (and by extension, his backer’s) money on the winner. Singularity is using a similar technology to the exclusively-licensed Vantablack, rather than a super-dark paint like “Black 3.0”. In fact he’s so confident that Singularity will appear darker than Black 3.0 that he mentions a head-to-head comparison is currently in the works.

If there’s a downside to the carbon nanotube array used in Singularity, it’s that you can’t actually touch it. [Simon] warns that while the acrylic case is only held together with magnets and can be opened for more careful inspection, actually touching the surface is absolutely not recommended. He says that even dust getting on the material is going to adversely effect its ability to absorb light, so you should really keep it buttoned up as much as possible.

While the Singularity looks like an interesting way to experience near perfect blackness, the concept itself is far from a novelty. A material that can absorb essentially all the light that hits it has important scientific, military, and of course artistic applications; so figuring out how to pull it off has become a pretty big deal.

Better Capacitors Through Nanotechnology

Traditionally, capacitors are like really bad rechargeable batteries. Supercapacitors changed that, making it practical to use a fast-charging capacitor in place of rechargeable batteries. However, supercapacitors work in a different way than conventional (dielectric) capacitors. They use either an electrostatic scheme to achieve very close separation of charge (as little as 0.3 nanometers) or electrochemical pseudocapacitance (or sometime a combination of those methods).

In a conventional capacitor the two electrodes are as close together as practical and as large as practical because the capacitance goes up with surface area and down with distance between the plates. Unfortunately, for high-performance energy storage, capacitors (of the conventional kind) have a problem: you can get high capacitance or high breakdown voltage, but not both. That’s intuitive since getting the plates closer makes for higher capacitance but also makes the dielectric more likely to break down as the electric field inside the capacitor becomes higher with both voltage and closer plate spacing (the electric field, E, is equal to the voltage divided by the plate spacing).

[Guowen Meng] and others from several Chinese and US universities recently published a paper in the journal Science Advances that offers a way around this problem. By using a 3D carbon nanotube electrode, they can improve a dielectric capacitor to perform nearly as well as a supercapacitor (they are claiming 2Wh/kg energy density in their device).

cap1The capacitor forms in a nanoporous membrane of anodic aluminum oxide. The pores do not go all the way through, but stop short, forming a barrier layer at the bottom of each pore. Some of the pores go through the material in one direction, and the rest go through in the other direction. The researchers deposited nanotubes in the pores and these tubes form the plates of the capacitor (see picture, right). The result is a capacitor with a high-capacity (due to the large surface area) but with an enhanced breakdown voltage thanks to the uniform pore walls.

cap2To improve performance, the pores in the aluminum oxide are formed so that one large pore pointing in one direction is surrounded by six smaller pores going in the other direction (see picture to left). In this configuration, the capacitance in a 1 micron thick membrane could be as high as 9.8 microfarads per square centimeter.

For comparison, most high-value conventional capacitors are electrolytic and use two different plates: a plate of metallic foil and a semi-liquid electrolyte.  You can even make one of these at home, if you are so inclined (see video below).

We’ve talked about supercapacitors before (even homebrew ones), and this technology could make high capacitance devices even better. We’ve also talked about graphene supercaps you can build yourself with a DVD burner.

It is amazing to think how a new technology like carbon nanotubes can make something as old and simple as a capacitor better. You have to wonder what other improvements will come as we understand these new materials even better.

Continue reading “Better Capacitors Through Nanotechnology”

Optical Rectenna Converts Light To DC

Using multiwall carbon nanotubes, researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have created what they say are the first optical rectennas–antennas with rectifiers that produce DC current. The work could lead to new technology for advanced photodetectors, new ways to convert waste heat to electricity and, possibly, more efficient ways to capture solar energy.

A paper in Nature Nanotechnology describes how light striking the nanotube antennas create a charge that moves through attached rectifiers. Challenges included making the antennas small enough for optical wavelengths, and creating  diodes small enough and fast enough to work at the extremely short wavelengths. The rectifiers switch on and off at petahertz speeds (something the Institute says is a record).  Continue reading “Optical Rectenna Converts Light To DC”

Artificial Muscles Use Carbon Nanotube Sheets

Light as air, stronger than steel and more flexible than rubber. Sound like something from the next installment of the Iron Man series? [Tony Stark] would certainly take notice of this fascinating technology. Fortunately for us, it does not come from the studios of Hollywood, but instead the halls of the NanoTech Institute at the University of Texas.

Professor [Ray Baughman] and his team of scientists at the NanoTech Institute have developed a type of artificial muscle through a process of making aerogel sheets by growing carbon nanotubes in a forest like structure. Think of a vertical bamboo forest, with each bamboo stem representing a single carbon nanotube. Now imagine that the individual bamboo stems were connected together by much smaller horizontal threads. So that if you dislodge the bamboo and began to pull, the threads would pull the others, and you would get this sheet-like structure.

These aerogel sheets of carbon nantubes have some truly science fiction like properties. They can operate from 1,600 degrees centigrade to near absolute zero. If you inject a charge, each nanotube will be repulsed from one another, expanding some 220% of the sheet’s original size. Your muscles do this at roughly 20 – 40%. Stick around after the break for a video demonstration of these carbon nanotube aerogel sheets being made and demonstrated.

Thanks to [Steven] for the tip!

Continue reading “Artificial Muscles Use Carbon Nanotube Sheets”

Can A Kickstarter Project Actually Build A Space Elevator?

It’s the stuff that Science Fiction is made of: an elevator that climbs its way into space rather than needing a rocket to get there. Can it be done? No. But this Kickstarter project aims to fund research that will eventually make a space elevator possible. They’re already way over their goal, and plan to use the extra funds to extend the reach of the experiments.

A complete success would be a tether that reaches into space, held taught by a weight which is pulled away from earth by centrifugal force. That’s not really on the radar yet (last we heard humans weren’t capable of producing a substance strong enough to keep the tether from snapping). What is in the works is a weather balloon supporting a ribbon which a robot can climb. The team isn’t new to this, having built and tested several models at University and then in a start-up company that closed its doors a few years ago. Now they’re hoping to get a 3-5 kilometer ribbon in the air and to build a new robot to climb it.

For now we’ll have to be satisfied with the 1000 ft. climb video after the break. But we hope to see an Earth-Moon freight system like the one shown in the diagram above before the end of our lifetimes.

Continue reading “Can A Kickstarter Project Actually Build A Space Elevator?”