Graphene-coated sensors hunt for oil, powered by flowing water

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute developed a way to harvest energy from flowing water, creating new ways for oil exploration.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

Graphene is a hot material because it has unique mechanical properties, so researchers are always manipulating in some form, including graphene-based transistors and a new generation of nanoelectronics. This time, however, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute developed a way to harvest energy from flowing water. The technology could enable microsensors to be self-powered as they hunt for oil.

Rensselaer professor Nikhil Koratkar said in a statement:

“While a similar effect has been observed for carbon nanotubes, this is the first such study with graphene. The energy-harvesting capability of graphene was at least an order of magnitude superior to nanotubes. Moreover, the advantage of the flexible graphene sheets is that they can be wrapped around almost any geometry or shape.”

So the idea is to wrap a graphene coating around the sensor to make it self-sufficient in generating its own power. Currently, oil exploration involves deep drills in hopes of finding oil or natural gas. Instead, oil companies could drop sensors in to drill wells and let them scope out the scene to see where would be good to drill. The sensors would be able to explore more terrain in cracks, because they're not limited to vertical motions of drills.

The sensors are so tiny that a normal battery won't suffice. By flowing water over surfaces covered in nanomaterial graphene, researchers created 85 nanowatts of power, according to a news release. This way, when the sensors are hunting for hydrocarbons, they can send information back up to the scientists.

According to MSNBC, this might hold up for small applications beyond oil exploration such as self-powered microbots or sensors that travel in the human body. It's unlikely it can be used for collecting energy on a large scale.

via RPI

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