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A new material made from carbon nanotubes can generate electricity by scavenging energy from its environment. MIT engineers have discovered a new way of generating electricity using tiny carbon particles that can create a current simply by interacting with liquid surrounding them. The liquid, an organic solvent, draws electrons out of the particles, generating a current that could be used to drive chemical reactions or to power micro- or nanoscale robots, the researchers say. “This mechanism is new, and this way of generating energy is completely new,” says Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT. “This technology is intriguing because all you have to do is flow a solvent through a bed of these particles. This allows you to do electrochemistry, but with no wires.” In a new study describing this phenomenon, the researchers showed that they could use this electric current to drive a reaction known as alcohol oxidation — an organic chemical reaction that is important in the chemical industry.

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