Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a new technology that allows them to generate clean energy literally out of thin air. The device is called Air-gen, and it can generate electricity from the moisture that is present in the air around it.
We are literally making electricity out of thin air. The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7.Jun Yao, Amherst electrical engineer, in university press release
How does Air-gen work?
The breakthrough technology is a unique combination of technology and biology. Derek Lovely, the coauthor of the study, said that he found a microbe called Geobacter and realized it has the potential to produce protein nanowires. These nanowires are capable of conducting electricity. A thin film of these protein nanowires, just 10 microns thick, rests on an electrode, while a smaller electrode lies on top of a small portion of the film. The film can then absorb water vapor from the air around it and produce electricity between the electrodes, due to the conductivity and surface chemistry of the nanowires.
Lovely says that Air-gen has significant advantages over other sources of renewable energy “because unlike these other renewable energy sources, the Air-gen does not require sunlight or wind, and “it even works indoors.”
Commercial application of Air-gen
The researchers say that in its current form, Air-gen can only power small electronics. However, they plan on bringing the technology to a commercial scale soon. One of the steps they will be taking is making small “patches” of Air-gen, which can be used to power small electronics such as smartwatches, phones, fitness monitors, etc.
Jun Yao has already planned out how a large-scale implementation of the Air-gen might be like. He 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.”
Yao also says that Air-gen is just the beginning of a series of technology that could be developed with protein nanowires. His laboratory has developed other applications based on Geobacter, or maybe other nanowire producing microbes. “This is just the beginning of new era of protein-based electronic devices.”
Source: UMass Amherst
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