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Carbon Nanotubes used as springs, could provide big power

22 September 2009 No Comment

Technology.am (Sept. 22, 2009) — MIT scientists suggests that carbon nanotubes could be formed into tiny springs capable of storing as much energy, pound for pound, as state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries, and potentially more durably and reliably.

springsbuiltCarbon nanotube springs, tube-shaped molecules of pure carbon, can potentially store more than a thousand times more energy for their weight than steel springs, according to Carol Livermore, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

The analysis shows the carbon nanotube springs could ultimately have an energy density a measure of the amount of energy that can be stored in a given weight of material more than 1,000 times that of steel springs, and comparable to that of the best lithium-ion batteries.

Unlike batteries, springs can deliver the stored energy effectively either in a rapid, intense burst, or slowly and steadily over a long period — as exemplified by the difference between the spring in a mousetrap or in a windup clock.

Unlike batteries, stored energy in springs normally doesn’t slowly leak away over time; a mousetrap can remain poised to snap for years without dissipating any of its energy.

Livermore says that the springs made from these minuscule tubes might find their first uses in large devices rather than in micro-electromechanical devices. For one thing, the best uses of such springs may be in cases where the energy is stored mechanically and then used to drive a mechanical load, rather than converting it to electricity first.

Any system that requires conversion from mechanical energy to electrical and back again, using a generator and then a motor, will lose some of its energy in the process through friction and other processes that produce waste heat.

Carbon nanotube springs also have the advantage that they are relatively unaffected by differences in temperature and other environmental factors, whereas batteries need to be optimized for a particular set of conditions, usually to operate at normal room temperature.

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