Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst have invented a device that is able to create “electricity out of thin air”. The device developed by experts makes use of a natural protein in order to create electricity from moisture located in the air.
This new technology could have significant implications for the future of clean, renewable energy, climate change but also the future of medicine.
The new device, reported in a study published in the Journal Nature, details the work done in the laboratories of electrical engineer Jun Yao and microbiologist Derek Lovley at UMass Amherst.
“We are literally making electricity out of thin air,” says Yao. “The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7.” Lovely, who has improved sustainable biology-based electronic materials over three decades, continues, “It’s the most amazing and exciting application of protein nanowires yet.”
Their “air-powered generator” features electrically conductive protein nanowires created by the microbe Geobacter.
The Air-Gen can connect electrodes to the protein nanowires in a way that an electrical current is created from water vapor that is present within Earth’s atmosphere, therefore creating electricity, as the researchers say, out of thin air.
The most important thing is that the device is non-polluting, renewable, and can be produced at a very low cost. It can produce energy even in areas that are extremely low in humidity, such as deserts around the world.
Compared to other forms of renewable energy including solar and wind, the device developed in Yao’s lab has numerous advantages.
For example, unlike solar and wind power, Air-Gen does not require sunlight or wind, and the best part is, it can even work indoors.
The revolutionary device only requires a thin, film of protein nanowires less than 10 microns thick, the experts have revealed.
The bottom of the Air-Gen’s film rests on an electrode, while a smaller electrode covers only part of the nanowire that is placed on top. The firm absorbs the water vapor from its surroundings. A combination of the electrical conductivity and surface chemistry of the protein nanowires joined with the fine pores connecting the nanowires within the film, provides the conditions that produce an electrical current between the two electrodes, successfully creating “electricity out of thin air.”
Despite being revolutionary, the current version of the Air-Gen is only able to power small electronics, although its inventors hope to develop the invention to a commercial-scale soon.
The scientists plan developing devices that will be able to power electronic wearables such as health and fitness monitors as well as smartwatches.
The scientists are also looking into developing Air-Gents to apply to mobile phones, something that would practically eliminate periodic charging.
However, the goal is to created large-scale systems that would be able to power more than just smalled gadgets.
“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 revealed.