EDMONTON — “One day, if a discovery by two University of Alberta engineering professors bears fruit, cellphones could be powered by a pressurized water system that would eliminate the need to recharge batteries.
With the help of two graduate students, engineering professors Daniel Kwok and Larry Kostiuk were able to light a small bulb by squeezing a syringe of ordinary tap water through a ceramic “filter” containing 10,000 microscopic tubes.
They did it by harnessing the natural energy that is created on a very tiny scale when a flowing liquid meets a solid surface.
Their discovery, touted as the first new way of producing electricity in 160 years, was published today by the London-based Institute of Physics.
“Hydrocarbon fuels are still the best source of energy but they’re fast running out and so new options like this one could be vital in the future,” said Kostiuk.
Kostiuk, who specializes in thermodynamics, and Kwok, whose expertise is in nanofabrication — combined their skills with those of grad students Jun Yang and Fuzhi Lu.
They’ve termed it an Electrokinetic Microchannel Battery.
The apparatus, which is being lauded in news reports today around the world, easily produces up to 10 volts, about the same as a car battery, but a current of only a few thousandths of an ampere, Kostiuk said.
At a fraction of a watt, that’s not enough to run a light bulb. But it could be enough to power the so-called “lab-on-a-chip” instruments envisioned by those working in nanotechnology or on MEMS — micro-electronic mechanical systems, he said.
When pressed for a more everyday example, Kostiuk came up with the cellphone, which uses the voltage the device is capable of producing and a relatively small current.
Other uses might include powering Palm Pilots or calculators with water batteries.”