The suppression of free energy by corporate interests has been made quite famous by the work of Nikola Tesla; and our subsequent continued reliance on fossil fuels and other inadequate sources of energy remains a serious hurdle to overcome.
There are some very promising developments coming out of the various open source DIY groups. These groups are utilizing the vast potential of lower-cost research and networking to provide a multi-faceted approach to innovation that is becoming far more difficult to suppress than the inventions of a single genius such as Tesla.
There has been particular focus upon how to increase battery life, given the ubiquitous nature of our digital gadgets and high-tech infrastructure. A German student, Dennis Siegel, invented a device that builds upon Tesla’s maxim that “throughout space there is energy” by capturing modern-day electromagnetic fields like WIFI and radio waves and converting them to stored energy in batteries. Siegel won a prestigious award when he successfully demonstrated charging one conventional AA battery over the span of a day. Siegel’s full story can be found here.
Now, a new technology based upon the amazing properties of graphene to convert light to electricity is showing signs of surpassing silicon as the most efficient path toward potential free energy. And even if it comes up short of that lofty goal, it still might revolutionize computing and electronics.
A new study from Nature Physics journal states the hard science behind this technology:
As hot electrons in graphene can drive currents, multiple hot-carrier generation makes graphene a promising material for highly efficient broadband extraction of light energy into electronic degrees of freedom, enabling high-efficiency optoelectronic applications.
In layman’s terms: graphene generates multiple electrons from each photon, whereas silicon – the current source of solar cells – can generate only a single electron per photon.
Since graphene can fully convert the energy it receives, nothing is lost in the process, thus providing a huge increase in overall efficiency. Cornell University titled their own review, “Self-Charged Graphene Battery Harvests Electricity from Thermal Energy of the Environment” which encapsulates the magnitude of its potential, as well as hints at the elusive promise of free energy.
The development of improved photovoltaics is exciting enough, as it could drive down the cost of all optical imaging and solar applications, but it is graphene’s potential for revolutionizing computing that could eventually lead to Silicon Valley being supplanted by Graphene Valley.
Enter the “Supercapacitor.”
Farhad Manjoo, writing for Slate summarizes the implications of how graphene can alter our focus from batteries to capacitors:
One approach for improving the battery is to forget about the battery and instead improve capacitors. A capacitor, like a battery, is a device that stores electrical energy. But capacitors charge and discharge their energy an order of magnitude faster than batteries. So if your phone contained a capacitor rather than a battery, you’d charge it up in a few seconds rather than an hour. But capacitors have a big downside—they’re even less energy dense than batteries. You can’t run a phone off a capacitor unless you wanted a phone bigger than a breadbox.
Manjoo goes on to discuss the eureka moment that resulted from a lab “accident” when UCLA undergrad Maher El-Kady experimented with subjecting a carbon compound to a common laser:
El-Kady’s idea of subjecting graphite oxide to the LightScribe was just a lucky continuation of that work. He saw some other students in the lab playing with the laser, so he decided to take a crack at it too. “The appeal of this technique is that anybody could do this—it’s really simple,” says Kaner. “You take a piece of plastic, buy some graphite oxide, stick it in your CD drive and turn it into graphene.” Even more exciting, the technique “makes the most efficient carbon-based supercapacitors that have been made to date.”
The result has been the invention of micro-supercapacitors with efficiency far surpassing what is currently available — hundreds to thousands of times greater — and at a much-reduced cost.
And here is where we can return to Tesla — this time to the vehicle named after him. The efficiency produced by graphene could solve the central problem of how to recharge vehicles quickly and increase distance between recharges, permitting recharging stations in lieu of gas refilling stations.
The multi-level applications that could result from graphene-based industry has led futurist site Kurzweilai.net to look at other consumer applications in the area of “flexible electronics,” as well as the predictable creepier aspects centered around embedded tracking and control devices:
The new micro-supercapacitors are also highly bendable and twistable, making them potentially useful as energy-storage devices in flexible electronics like roll-up displays and TVs, e-paper, and even wearable electronics.
These micro-supercapacitors show excellent cycling stability, an important advantage over micro-batteries, which have shorter lifespans and which could pose a major problem when embedded in permanent structures — such as biomedical implants, active radio-frequency identification tags and embedded micro-sensors — for which no maintenance or replacement is possible. (Source)
All sources indicate that the realization of this technology in its fullest potential is years if not a decade or more away from fruition, but the tantalizing range of uses is sure to spur additional research that could make graphene a household name much sooner.
Below is a video that offers additional insight into the initial discovery of graphene, as well as the production and capabilities of this intriguing new technology:
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