An artist's rendering of electricity. Shutterstock.

Scientists find a way to “extract” electricity from the air

Scientists have made a groundbreaking discovery, finding a method to harness clean energy from the air. This revolutionary breakthrough holds the potential to revolutionize the energy industry and mitigate environmental concerns.


In a revolutionary breakthrough, scientists have found a way to extract electricity from the air.

Engineers have unlocked a new method for generating energy that might have impressed the likes of Nikola Tesla. Demonstrating that almost any substance can be converted into a device that continuously harvests electricity from humid air.

Engineers’ Pioneering Success

At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, an innovative team of engineers has showcased a method to transform almost any material into an electricity-harvesting device. This technique utilizes smaller than 100 nanometers in diameter nanopores distributed throughout the material to capture electricity from air moisture.

Excitement and Expectations High for New Clean Energy Source

“We’re unlocking a broad scope for clean electricity generation from thin air,” says lead author Xiaomeng Liu, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering at UMass Amherst. The groundbreaking research has recently been published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Extracting Electricity from Air: A Human-Built Cloud

Air holds a vast quantity of electricity, says Jun Yao, an assistant professor at UMass Amherst. “Consider a cloud, full of water droplets, each carrying a charge, which under the right conditions, produces a lightning bolt,” explains Yao. However, capturing electricity from lightning remains unreliable. The team’s solution is to create a small-scale, human-built cloud that produces predictable, continuous electricity for easy harvesting.


The Intricacies of the ‘Generic Air-gen Effect’

The core of this artificial cloud relies on a phenomenon termed the “generic Air-gen effect” by Yao and his colleagues. Previously, they demonstrated that electricity could be consistently harvested from air using protein nanowires derived from the bacterium Geobacter sulfurreducens. “We discovered that the Air-gen effect was not limited to one kind of material,” says Yao, adding, “almost any material can harvest electricity from air if it possesses one specific property.”

The Key to Air Electricity Generation: Nanopores

The crucial property, Yao elaborates, is the presence of nanopores smaller than 100 nanometers (nm). These minuscule pores correspond to the “mean free path,” the average distance a water molecule travels before colliding with another one in the air.

Designing the Electricity Harvester

Taking advantage of this parameter, Yao’s team designed an electricity harvester, a thin layer filled with nanopores smaller than 100 nm. These nanopores facilitate water molecules’ movement across the layer, creating a charge imbalance akin to a cloud, and effectively forming a battery running on air humidity.

Uncovering a Simple but Revolutionary Idea

“The concept is simple,” says Yao, “but it’s groundbreaking, and it opens countless possibilities.” The harvester can be crafted from various materials, allowing for cost-effective and environmentally adaptable applications. This continuous source of power works around the clock, independent of weather conditions, overcoming some of the major limitations of wind or solar technologies.

Scaling Up for High Power Output

Given air humidity diffuses in three-dimensional space, and the Air-gen device’s thickness is a fraction of a human hair’s width, multiple devices can be stacked, enhancing the energy output without increasing the device’s footprint. This scaling could generate kilowatt-level power, suitable for general electrical utility usage.


Clean Electricity: A Reality of the Future

“Picture a future world where clean electricity is omnipresent,” says Yao, excited about the widespread application of the Air-gen effect. This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Sony Group, Link Foundation, and the Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS) at UMass Amherst, leveraging expertise from 29 campus departments to translate fundamental research into practical innovations.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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