Long Considered Impossible in Physics: Nonlinear Circuit Harvests Clean Power Using Graphene

Long Considered Impossible in Physics: Nonlinear Circuit Harvests Clean Power Using Graphene

Researchers have discovered a method to harness energy from ambient heat using graphene, overturning long-established physics theories. This breakthrough holds promising commercial potential, especially for wireless sensors.

The discovery overturns more than a century of physics orthodoxy by identifying a new form of energy that can be extracted from ambient heat using Anomalous Dynamical Behavior of Freestanding Graphene Membranes.” In that study, Thibado and his co-authors identified the unique vibrational properties of graphene and its potential for energy harvesting. The second was published in a 2020 Physical Review E article entitled “Fluctuation-induced current from freestanding graphene,” in which they discuss a circuit using graphene that can supply clean, limitless power for small devices or sensors.

This latest study progresses even further by establishing mathematically the design of a circuit capable of gathering energy from the heat of the earth and storing it in capacitors for later use.

“Theoretically, this was what we set out to prove,” Thibado explained. “There are well-known sources of energy, such as kinetic, solar, ambient radiation, acoustic, and thermal gradients. Now there is also nonlinear thermal power. Usually, people imagine that thermal power requires a temperature gradient. That is, of course, an important source of practical power, but what we found is a new source of power that has never existed before. And this new power does not require two different temperatures because it exists at a single temperature.”

In addition to Thibado, co-authors include Pradeep Kumar, John Neu, Surendra Singh, and Luis Bonilla. Kumar and Singh are also physics professors at the University of Arkansas, Neu at the NTS Innovations, a company specializing in nanotechnology, owns the exclusive license to develop GEH into commercial products. Because GEH circuits are so small, mere nanometers in size, they are ideal for mass duplication on silicon chips. When multiple GEH circuits are embedded on a chip in arrays, more power can be produced. They can also operate in many environments, making them particularly attractive for wireless sensors in locations where changing batteries is inconvenient or expensive, such as an underground pipe system or interior aircraft cable ducts.

Donald Meyer, founder and CEO of NTS Innovations, said of Thibado’s latest effort: “Paul’s research reinforces our conviction that we are on the right path with Graphene Energy Harvesting. We appreciate our partnership with the University of Arkansas in bringing this technology to market.”

Ryan McCoy, NTS Innovations’ vice president of sales and marketing, added, “There is broad demand across the electronics industry to shrink form factors and decrease dependency on batteries and wired power. We believe Graphene Energy Harvesting will have a profound impact on both.”

Of the long road to making his latest theoretical breakthrough, Thibado said, “There was always this question out there: ‘If our graphene device is in a really quiet, really dark environment, would it harvest any energy or not?’ The conventional answer to that is no, as it apparently defies the laws of physics. But the physics had never been looked at carefully. I think people were afraid of the topic a bit because of Feynman. So, everybody just said, ‘I’m not touching that.’ But the question just kept demanding our attention. Honestly, its solution was only found through the perseverance and diverse approaches of our unique team.”

Reference: “Charging capacitors from thermal fluctuations using diodes” by P. M. Thibado, J. C. Neu, Pradeep Kumar, Surendra Singh and L. L. Bonilla, 16 August 2023, Physical Review E.
DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevE.108.024130

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