Nanoengineered Graphene Coating Harvests Energy From Flowing Water, Powers Underwater Microsensors Used To Detect Underground Oil and Gas. New Graphene Discovery Boosts Oil Exploration Efforts, Could Enable Self-Powered Underwater Microsensors. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a new method to harvest energy from flowing water. This discovery aims to hasten the creation of self-powered underwater microsensors for more accurate and cost-efficient oil exploration.

Led by Rensselaer Professor Nikhil Koratkar, the researchers investigated how the flow of water over surfaces coated with the nanomaterial graphene could generate small amounts of electricity. The research team demonstrated the creation of 85 nanowatts of power from a sheet of graphene measuring .03 millimeters by .015 millimeters. This amount of energy should be sufficient to power tiny sensors that are introduced into water or other fluids and pumped down into a potential oil well, Koratkar said. As the injected water moves through naturally occurring cracks and crevices deep in the earth, the devices detect the presence of hydrocarbons and can help uncover hidden pockets of oil and natural gas. As long as water is flowing over the graphene-coated devices, they should be able to provide a reliable source of power. This power is necessary for the sensors to relay collected data and information back to the surface.

“It’s impossible to power these underwater microsensors with conventional batteries, as the sensors are just too small. So we created a graphene coating that allows us to capture energy from the movement of water over the sensors,” said Koratkar, professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the Rensselaer School of Engineering. “While a similar effect has been observed for carbon nanotubes, this is the first such study with graphene. The energy-harvesting capability of graphene was at least an order of magnitude superior to nanotubes. Moreover, the advantage of the flexible graphene sheets is that they can be wrapped around almost any geometry or shape.”