Letter | Published:

Water-evaporation-induced electricity with nanostructured carbon materials

Nature Nanotechnology volume 12, pages 317321 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Water evaporation is a ubiquitous natural process1 that harvests thermal energy from the ambient environment. It has previously been utilized in a number of applications2,3 including the synthesis of nanostructures4 and the creation of energy-harvesting devices5,6. Here, we show that water evaporation from the surface of a variety of nanostructured carbon materials can be used to generate electricity. We find that evaporation from centimetre-sized carbon black sheets can reliably generate sustained voltages of up to 1 V under ambient conditions. The interaction between the water molecules and the carbon layers and moreover evaporation-induced water flow within the porous carbon sheets are thought to be key to the voltage generation. This approach to electricity generation is related to the traditional streaming potential7, which relies on driving ionic solutions through narrow gaps, and the recently reported method of moving ionic solutions across graphene surfaces8,9, but as it exploits the natural process of evaporation and uses cheap carbon black it could offer advantages in the development of practical devices.

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Acknowledgements

This work was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (51322210, 51672097, 51472117, 51535005), 973 programs (2013CB932604), a Foundation for the Author of National Excellent Doctoral Dissertation of PR China (201035), the National Program for Support of Top-notch Young Professionals and Director Fund of WNLO. We thank Y. Gogotsi, M. Xu, J. Tang, S. Q. Zeng, K. Lu, H. J. Gao, X. C. Zeng, Z. L. Wang and Z. H. Zhang for helpful discussions and suggestions, and K. Liu for help in the streaming potential test.

Author information

Author notes

    • Guobin Xue
    • , Ying Xu
    • , Tianpeng Ding
    •  & Jia Li

    These authors contributed equally to this work

Affiliations

  1. Wuhan National Laboratory for Optoelectronics, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan 430074, China

    • Guobin Xue
    • , Tianpeng Ding
    • , Jia Li
    • , Yuanzhi Cao
    • , Longyan Yuan
    •  & Jun Zhou
  2. Key Laboratory for Intelligent Nano Materials and Devices of Ministry of Education, State Key Laboratory of Mechanics and Control of Mechanical Structures, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Nanjing 210016, China

    • Ying Xu
    • , Jun Yin
    • , Wenwen Fei
    • , Jin Yu
    •  & Wanlin Guo
  3. State Key Laboratory of Optoelectronic Materials and Technologies, Guangdong Province Key Laboratory of Display Material and Technology, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China

    • Li Gong
    • , Jian Chen
    •  & Shaozhi Deng

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Contributions

J.Z. and W.G. conceived and designed the study; G.X., T.D., J.L., W.F., J.Yin, Y.C. and L.Y. performed the experiments, Y.X. and J.Yu conducted the simulations; L.G., J.C. and S.D. took part in characterizing the samples; W.G. and J.Z. analysed the results with contributions from all authors and wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Jun Zhou or Wanlin Guo.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nnano.2016.300

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