The MIT scientists published some results at the weekend in which they showed that what they called thermopower waves could be used to produce electricity when pushed through carbon nanotubes. If you are picturing the Doc from the Back to the Future films you are not alone.
The scientists described thermopower as a newly discovered phenomenon, adding that they used a chicken-wire-like lattice of carbon atoms to create submicroscopic tubes through which a thermal wave is forced to produce energy.
In a statement they said, "Like a collection of flotsam propelled along the surface by waves traveling across the ocean, it turns out that a thermal wave - a moving pulse of heat - traveling along a microscopic wire can drive electrons along, creating an electrical current".
To prove this they coated a layer of reactive fuel, that can produce heat by decomposing, onto the tubes and set it alight. They found that as they burnt, so they produced energy.
"These tubes, just a few billionths of a meter (nanometers) in diameter, are part of a family of novel carbon molecules, including buckyballs and graphene sheets, that have been the subject of intensive worldwide research over the last two decades."
Studies have shown that the system can put out energy up to 100 times greater than a lithium-ion battery that weighs the same, plus, the MIT researchers said, they could be made in large arrays to supply significant amounts of power for larger devices.