Nanonets are capturing a lot of attention in the science world lately, due to some of the curious properties that emerge from their two-dimensional structure. Essentially tiny lattice structures so thin that they are not considered to have width, nanonets are poised to revolutionize a variety of power storing and generating techniques.
Prof. Dunwei Wang of Boston College developed the tiny scaffold like structures made of titanium coated with silicon and is now finding them useful in a variety of applications. They are some of the most complex nanostructures yet developed, or more specifically, “grown.” They grow “spontaneously from titanium and silicon flowing through a reaction chamber at high temperatures,” explains Wang for TechnologyReview.com.
Their conductivity, which is said to be “five to 10 times greater than typical lithium-ion anode material” makes them well suited for use in lithium-ion batteries.
Devices powered by nanonet batteries would feature longer battery life and higher efficiency. More importantly, the nanonet-based batteries do not show a drop off in capacity after frequent charge and recharge cycles. A ScienceDaily.com article writes that there was “a negligible drop-off in capacity during charge and re-charge cycles. The researchers observed an average of 0.1 per cent capacity fade per cycle between the 20th and the 100th cycles.”
However, the more promising application is solar power generation.
When the nanonets are coated with iron oxide — or rust — they gain the ability to efficiently split hydrogen from oxygen, reports ScienceDaily.com. The structures are “constructed of wires 1/400th the size of a human hair, [they] are highly conductive and offer significant surface area. They serve dual roles as a structural support and an efficient charge collector, allowing for maximum photon-to-charge conversion,” says Wang.
The key to this water splitting rests with titanium disilicide, “which absorbs a broad spectrum of visible light, splits water into hydrogen and oxygen, and can store the hydrogen, which it absorbs or releases depending on the temperature,” writes TechnologyReview.com.
The finding is significant because the energy expenditures involved in splitting water have been so great that the process is essentially not viable. Water is split when an electric current is run through the molecule, separating hydrogen and oxygen. Wang is confident that the energy saved by using nanonets, which do not lose current like traditional conductors, will make the process feasible. If this is correct, nanonets may be the future of clean energy generation.