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Thursday, 14 July 2011

Superstrong carbon nanotubes are an effective storage medium for mechanical energy

July 11, 2011

Running a society on renewable energy is not a viable option unless energy generated by windmills, solar cells, hydropower plants and the like can be stored on a large scale and made available during times when energy demand exceeds energy production (for instance at night or during windless intervals). Apart from batteries and fuel cells there are mechanical energy storage options that could play a role: pumped storage hydroelectricity (example: Bath County pumped storage station), compressed underground air storage (example: Huntorf plant), even flywheels (example: Stephentown flywheel energy storage plant).

Energy generation and storage is an equally important issue at the nanoscale. For tiny devices such as nano- and micro-electromechanical systems – NEMS and MEMS – autonomous power sources are crucial for practical applications. Progress is being made in designing and fabricating nanoscale power generators (see for instance: "Nanotechnology converts heartbeat and breathing into electricity". But, as with the large, macroscale systems of future smart grids, there might be times when powered nanodevices need to bridge a slump in power generation/harvesting or they might be designed to run on stored energy altogether for a limited period of time.

Researchers in China are now proposing that the high energy density and power density of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) makes them promising materials for the storage of mechanical energy. Reporting their work in the June 14, 2011 online issue of Advanced Materials ("Superstrong Ultralong Carbon Nanotubes for Mechanical Energy Storage"), a team led by Fei Wei, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing, provides a structural model towards mechanical energy storage for nanodevices and also demonstrates a method to characterize and manipulate ultralong CNTs.
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