New; A device that generates electricity out of thin air

Published on: 10/03/2021 | Comments: No comments 

by.. Arjun Walia 

A new study published in Nature entitled “Power generation from ambient humidity using protein nanowires” has discovered an interesting way to harvest energy from the environment, creating the potential for another clean power generating system that is self-sustaining. According to the authors,

“thin-film devices made from nanometre-scale protein wires harvested from the microbe Geobacter sulfurreducens can generate continuous electric power in the ambient environment. The devices produce a sustained voltage of around 0.5 volts across a 7-micrometre-thick film, with a current density of around 17 microamperes per square centimetre. We find the driving force behind this energy generation to be a self-maintained moisture gradient that forms within the film when the film is exposed to the humidity that is naturally present in air.”

The study also mentions that “connecting several devices linearly scales up the voltage and current to power electronics” and that their results “demonstrate the feasibility of a continuous energy-harvesting strategy that is less restricted by location or environmental conditions than other sustainable approaches.”

So, how is this all possible? Well, more than three decades ago a “sediment organism” was discovered in the Potomac river that could do things nobody had ever observed before in bacteria. The microbe belonged to the Geobacter genus, and over time scientists discovered that it could make bacterial nanowires that conduct electricity.

Electricity Out Of Thin Air

According to the team that published the study, their device uses this finding to create electricity from the atmosphere. One of the electrical engineers, Jun Yao, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, stated that they are “literally making electricity out of thin air.”  They are calling it the “Air-gen” and it generates clean energy 24/7, thanks to the electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by  Geobacter.

The idea that a device can create energy with nothing but the presence of air around it is quite exciting, it works by using a thin film of the protein nanowires mentioned measuring just micrometres thick that are positioned between two electrodes that are also exposed to the air. It’s because of this exposure that the nanowire film is able to absorb the water vapour that’s abundant within the atmosphere. This is what allows the device to generate a continuous electric current.

The new technology developed in Yao’s lab is non-polluting, renewable and low-cost. It can generate power even in areas with extremely low humidity such as the Sahara Desert. It has significant advantages over other forms of renewable energy including solar and wind, Lovley says, because unlike these other renewable energy sources, the Air-gen does not require sunlight or wind, and “it even works indoors.”

The researchers say that the current generation of Air-gen devices are able to power small electronics, and they expect to bring the invention to commercial scale soon. Next steps they plan include developing a small Air-gen “patch” that can power electronic wearables such as health and fitness monitors and smart watches, which would eliminate the requirement for traditional batteries. They also hope to develop Air-gens to apply to cell phones to eliminate periodic charging.

Yao says, “The ultimate goal is to make large-scale systems. For example, the technology might be incorporated into wall paint that could help power your home. Or, we may develop stand-alone air-powered generators that supply electricity off the grid. Once we get to an industrial scale for wire production, I fully expect that we can make large systems that will make a major contribution to sustainable energy production.”

An addition to the Air-gen, Yao’s laboratory has created several other applications using protein nanowires that are showing strong potential. Apparently this is just the beginning in a new era of protein-based electronic devices–if this technology is actually allowed to fully develop.

Human beings have so much potential, and we’ve had solutions to many of our problems for quite some time. Developments like this never seem to come to commercial scale as promised, and are not really ‘put out there’ nor marketed as they should be. .. Source

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