Can you think of generating electricity from the paint on your wall, and the method is completely renewable. this sounds something fishy or like a concept of a sci-fi movie, but what if I say that is true. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst think it could be one of many future uses for a new technology they have developed — a device called the Air-gen that can, as its name suggests, generate electricity from moisture in the air. electricity out of thin air
A strange “sediment organism” that was found three decades ago in the muddy shore of the Potomac River could do things nobody had ever seen before in bacteria.
This extraordinary microbe belongs to the Geobacter genus. It was first noted for its ability to produce magnetite in the absence of oxygen, but with time scientists found it could make other things too, like bacterial nanowires that conduct electricity.
For years, researchers have been trying to figure out ways to usefully exploit that natural gift, and they might have just hit pay-dirt with a device they’re calling the Air-gen.
“We are literally making electricity out of thin air,” says electrical engineer Jun Yao from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7.”
The Air-gen consists of a thin film of the protein nanowires measuring just 7 micrometres thick, positioned between two electrodes, but also exposed to the air.
Because of that exposure, the nanowire film is able to adsorb water vapour that exists in the atmosphere, enabling the device to generate a continuous electrical current conducted between the two electrodes. electricity out of thin air
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The team says the charge is likely created by a moisture gradient that creates a diffusion of protons in the nanowire material.
“This charge diffusion is expected to induce a counterbalancing electrical field or potential analogous to the resting membrane potential in biological systems,” Jun Yao and his team explain in their study.
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. Though the electricity generated is very low, but connecting several devices linearly scales up the voltage and current to power small electronics appliances.
The discovery was made almost by accident, when Yao noticed devices he was experimenting with were conducting electricity seemingly all by themselves.
“I saw that when the nanowires were contacted with electrodes in a specific way the devices generated a current. I found that exposure to atmospheric humidity was essential and that protein nanowires adsorbed water, producing a voltage gradient across the device” Yao said.
They want to make it on a large industrial scale to power every home via nanowire incorporated into wall paint.
These would include the power-generating house paint, or a generator that would produce off-the-grid electricity. All that needs to happen is to find a way to mass-produce the wires, and Lovley is headed in that direction with his successful genetic engineering of the fast-growing E. coli bacteria to produce the nanowires, Science Magazine reported.
“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 said in the press release. electricity out of thin air