No, we are not April 1st. The very serious Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering revealed last week that scientists have discovered a new source of electricity: "generating electric power by harnessing the natural electrokinetic properties of a liquid such as ordinary tap water when it is pumped through tiny microchannels."
The research team from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, have created a new source of clean non-polluting electric power with a variety of possible uses, ranging from powering small electronic devices to contributing to a national power grid.
The research was led by Professor Daniel Y. Kwok and Professor Larry W. Kostiuk from the University of Alberta (U of A). Professor Kostiuk said: “This discovery has a huge number of possible applications. It’s possible that it could be a new alternative energy source to rival wind and solar power, but this would need huge bodies of water to work on a commercial scale. Hydrocarbon fuels are still the best source of energy but they’re fast running out and so new options like this one could be vital in the future”.
"This technology could provide a new power source for devices such as mobile phones or calculators which could be charged up by pumping water to high pressure."
How does this work?
The key to electrical power generation is to create a sustainable electrical charge separation. The physical phenomenon involved in this research is the charge separation that occurs at solid-liquid interfaces due to the dissociation of the solid. As a result, the surface becomes charged and opposite-charged ions in the liquid are attracted to it; while like-charged ions are repelled, resulting in a thin liquid layer with a net charge. This region, known as the Electric Double Layer (EDL), ranges from several nanometers to a few micrometers thick, but is the primary mechanism for charge separation.
The research team constructed a solid-liquid interface as a channel with a diameter similar to the EDL and forced the liquid through this channel, the net charges in the EDL are transported downstream. This preferential transport of one type of ion will create a current, and hence voltage difference across the ends of the channel if the solid is non-conducting.
And when can we expect to power our cell phones with pressurized water? EurekAlert! offers an answer.
The environmental benefit of clean energy conversion using safe, renewable materials is motivating the team to explore how their prototypical device may be developed into a battery for eventual commercial use. The inventors are working with the U of A's Technology Transfer Group (TTG) to develop a commercialization strategy for the groundbreaking work. A patent application has been filed by the university to obtain broad, early protection of the invention. The TTG is conducting an in-depth evaluation of the market opportunities.
Obviously, this technology will not be there anytime soon.
Source: Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering, October 14, 2003; EurekAlert!, October 19, 2003
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