Scientists and researchers from the University of Arkansas said to have discovered a way to harness “clean and limitless” energy with the help of fluctuating carbon atoms that make up graphene.

What is Graphene? 

Graphene is a material made from a one atom thick of Carbon carefully arranged like interlinked hexagons. Despite of its two-dimensional form, graphene is often considered by many as the world’s strongest material—even harder than diamond, and 100 times stronger than steel of the same thickness.

Others also refer it as a “miracle material” as its existence is somewhat straight from a science fiction. Almost 70 years earlier, physicists argued that two-dimensional materials like graphene shouldn’t exist as it is believed to be too thermodynamically unstable, since “thermal fluctuations (basically the same kind of force that causes ice to melt and lose its crystal structure above 0°C) would be as large as the force binding the atoms together, causing the structure to fall apart.” (Harvard University, 2011)

But the idea was later disproved after Novoselov and Geim discovered graphene in 2004. Further studies were conducted and scientists later found out that carbon bonds is strong and small enough for thermal fluctuations to destabilize graphene. This one atom thick material can also act like a solid three-dimensional material.

“Clean and limitless” energy from graphene

The University of Arkansas researchers was set out to study the innate movements of graphene using a scanning tunneling microscope. The atoms that made up the graphene sheet vibrates in response to temperature around it, making the linked carbon atoms to ripple like a flag. This phenomenon is called the Brownian Motion. During the study, scientists not only observed Brownian motion. There is also a presence of larger and more coordinated movements.

“We separated each image into sub-images,” Professor Thibado explained. “Looking at large-scale averages hid the different patterns. Each region of a single image, when viewed over time, produced a more meaningful pattern.”

In these larger movements, the entire ripple buckled, flipping up and down like a thin piece of metal being repeatedly flexed. This small random motion combined with larger, more coordinated movements is called Lévy flights. This motion could be tapped into an unlimited source of energy using a device called Vibration Energy Harvester (VEH).

A sheet of negatively-charged graphene suspended between two metal electrodes will act as a catalyst to start the system. When a group of carbon atoms rise, the graphene sheet curves upwards, making connections with the top electrode to create a positive charge. When they fall they touch the lower electrode to create an alternating current.

According to researchers, graphene sheet that measured 10 microns can produce about 10 microwatts of power continuously without any loss. Remember that these movements is indefinite (as even the heat of room temperature is enough to generate vibration to carbon bonds), making the harvest of energy limitless.

“If you had this powering your watch for example, you would never have to replace the batteries,” Thibado said in the video. “If you could have a battery alternative that you didn’t have to go and replace, imagine all the things you could do.”