MIT researchers are putting a tiny gas-turbine engine inside a silicon chip about the size of a quarter. The resulting device could run 10 times longer than a battery of the same weight can, powering laptops, cell phones, radios and other electronic devices.
Their microengine is made of six silicon wafers, piled up like pancakes and bonded together. Each wafer is a single crystal with its atoms perfectly aligned, so it is extremely strong. [...] They make 60 to 100 components on a large wafer that they then (very carefully) cut apart into single units.
Inside a tiny combustion chamber, fuel and air quickly mix and burn at the melting point of steel. Turbine blades, made of low-defect, high-strength microfabricated materials, spin at 20,000 revolutions per second -- 100 times faster than those in jet engines. A mini-generator produces 10 watts of power. A little compressor raises the pressure of air in preparation for combustion. And cooling (always a challenge in hot microdevices) appears manageable by sending the compression air around the outside of the combustor.
"So all the parts work.... We're now trying to get them all to work on the same day on the same lab bench," Epstein said. Ultimately, of course, hot gases from the combustion chamber need to turn the turbine blades, which must then power the generator, and so on. "That turns out to be a hard thing to do," he said. Their goal is to have it done by the end of this year.
Now the geeks will covet gasoline laptops to go along with their electric cars! But obviously this is not nearly as cool as powering your cellphone on human blood.