Researchers create electricity using water flow over extremely thin metal sheets


(Daily file photo by Ben Pope)

Technological Institute, 2145 Sheridan Road. Northwestern chemistry Prof. Franz M. Geiger helped develop a way of creating electricity by flowing water over thin sheets of metal.

Andrea Bian, Summer Managing Editor

Northwestern researchers have collaborated with scientists from the California Institute of Technology to produce electricity by flowing water over inexpensive, thin layers of metal.

The method of producing electricity by running water over metal is a simpler development to more complex systems involving graphene or carbon nanotubes. By using this method, scientists now have the possibility of developing new forms of sustainable energy and power production.

The corresponding author of the study detailing the method is chemistry Prof. Franz M. Geiger. Geiger co-authored the study with Thomas Miller, a chemistry professor at Caltech.

Geiger said increasing the scale of the model can be applicable to real-world situations and environments increasing the likelihood of sustainable energy production.

“It’s exciting to think about coupling the metal nanolayers to a solar cell or coating the outside of building windows with metal nanolayers to obtain energy when it rains,” Geiger told Northwestern Now.

The researchers studied a variety of metals and found the most effective ones to be iron, nickel and vanadium. By using extremely thin layers of metal, the ions in rainwater or saltwater attract electrons that flow with the ions as the water flows as well. Because the electrons move through the water flow, bringing the electrons with them, an electrical current can be produced.

“For perspective, plates having an area of 10 square meters each would generate a few kilowatts per hour — enough for standard U.S. home,” Miller said.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published the study with the discovery this week. The research work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency through the Army Research Chemical Sciences Division.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @andreabian_