IIT Guwahati Researchers develop materials to produce energy from water on a small scale

Guwahati: Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati Researchers have developed materials that can produce energy from water, on a small scale. These new ways of producing energy can be employed in household environments to support the concept of decentralization of energy sources. In the centralized energy generation model, one large plant produces energy for an entire region, in contrast, the decentralized energy model introduces a large number of small generation devices that can be employed to generate in every household. The excess energy produced in households can be transported nearby areas where there is an excessive need for energy. The researchers of IIT Guwahati employed the nanoscale phenomenon called “Electrokinetic streaming potential” to harvest energy from flowing water on the small length scale like water flowing through household water taps. Similarly, the “Contrasting Interfacial Activities” different types of semiconducting materials were employed to generate power from stagnant water.

A research team led by Dr. Kalyan Raidongia, Department of Chemistry, IIT Guwahati, along with his research team Ms. Jumi Deka, Mr. Kundan Saha, Mr. Suresh Kumar, and Mr. Hemant Kumar Srivastava worked on this novel research. Their findings were recently published in ACS Applied Nanomaterials.

The impending energy crisis that has arisen from the dual problems of dwindling fossil fuel reserves and environmental issues associated with the use of such fuel, has led to considerable research in alternative energy sources such as light, heat, wind, ocean waves, etc. The generation of energy from water in various forms – river flow, ocean tides, stagnant water, and even raindrops, is now known as “blue energy”. While hydroelectric power from rivers is the traditional form of blue energy, there have been efforts to harness the power of water in other ways in recent years.

One out-of-the-box blue source is electrokinetic energy. “When fluids stream through tiny channels that are charged, they can generate an electrical voltage, which may be harnessed through miniaturized generators”, explains Dr. Raidongia. Although the exploration of such electrokinetic phenomena and their possible use for energy conversion have been known for more than half a century, they have not been harnessed because of low efficiency arising from the unsuitability of channels for the fluid stream. The humble efficiency of electrokinetic streaming potential based energy generating devices is attributed to the trade-off between high flow-rate and nanofluidic confinement. The researchers of IIT Guwahati demonstrated that power output can be improved by thousand times by attaining the best out of these parameters through biconical nanofluidic channels that interconnect tetrahedral and octahedral voids in the close-packed silica spheres. Enhancement in the power density can be brought about through control of multiple parameters such as the diameter of the close-packed spheres, number of the spheres, the contact area of the electrodes, and pH of the streaming water, and the team is currently involved in such optimization efforts.

In order to extract power from stagnant water, devices were fabricated by employing doped graphene flakes. The complementary charge transfer activities of doped graphene flakes based devices generate power just upon dipping in any kind of water source, like lake, river or seawater.

Graphene is the sheet produced by oxidation followed by reduction of natural graphite flakes. “What we have done is modified graphene in such a way that its electron density is manipulated; even stagnant water in contact with this form of graphene can produce energy”, added Dr. Raidongia.

The researcher doped graphene oxide with boron and nitrogen, separately, loaded the two forms of graphene into two filter papers that served as electrodes in an electrochemical cell. Dipping the two filter papers into water produces potential up to 570 millivolt, which was stable for a few days (80 hours). “We improved the power generated by varying parameters like coating area, the extent of doping, annealing temperature, and ionic conductivity of the medium”, said Dr. Raidongia.

“We use a lot of stagnant and flowing water in our daily lives”, said Dr. Raidongia. Water stored in buckets and water flowing from taps can potentially be used to produce energy if such nanogenerators can be developed further. While the power generated currently is too small for practical applications, research such as those by Dr. Raidongia’s team brings us a step closer to realising simple, safe and reliable alternative power sources that can eventually reduce the load on the centralised grid, and contribute to energy self-sufficiency.