So what real-world applications could thermopower waves be used for? Strano says that one possibility would be ultra-small electronic devices since the nanotubes are so tiny (although they could be made into larger arrays to power larger electronics). Or it could lead to “environmental sensors that could be scattered like dust in the air,” he says. Unlike batteries that lose power while they’re not being used, these devices could, in theory, maintain their charge indefinitely while idle.
Another idea that the scientists are playing with is that by using different kinds of reactive materials to coat the tubes, the resulting wave front could oscillate, producing an alternating current. Since radio waves such as cell phone signals are based on alternating current, this part of the discovery could open up an additional host of uses.