When the researchers’ protein threads in nanoscale capture moisture from the air, electricity is generated. Their system provides sustained 0.5 volts, and the solution even works in the Sahara.
The researchers generate electricity from the empty air
More than 30 years ago, the bacterium was found on the shoreline along the Potomac River on the US East Coast. These microbes, Geobacter sulfurreducens, were found to possess several unusual properties. Among other things, they can create nanoscale protein threads that conduct current.
Now a team at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has used the wires to build a rig that can convert water vapor into the air into electricity.
The air gene consists of a film with the bacterial protein threads seven micrometers thick, placed between two flat electrodes. The wires attract the water vapor present in the air, which means that constant current is generated between the two electrodes.
This can be compared to previous solutions to extract energy from moisture in the air, which until now has only been able to achieve short sequences of 50 seconds.
The test rig yielded 0.5 volts
According to the team, the permanent power supply is due to a combination of the chemistry of the nanowires and the film’s small pores between the wires, together with the good conductivity. The rig created by the University of Massachusetts Amherst provides sustained 0.5 volts in the film, with a current density of about 17 microamperes per square centimeter.
The team claims that the Air gene could generate electricity even in extremely dry places like in the Sahara. In addition to obvious advantages such as the system being independent of wind and sun, the solution even works indoors. The researchers’ thesis has been presented in Nature.
“Optimal are large-scale systems”
Even today, the Air gene can operate small appliances, but the creators have bigger visions.
– The optimal goal is to create large-scale systems. For example, the technology could possibly be incorporated into wall color to help run your home. Or we could develop standalone air-powered generators that can supply power outside the grid. Once we have come up with an industrial scale on wire production, I definitely expect that we can create large-scale systems that will make a significant contribution to sustainable energy production, says electrical engineer Jun Yao in a statement.
Another way to harvest renewable energy from water vapor is by utilizing the evaporation of a watercourse, a natural process driven by solar heat.
Electricity collected from the air can be the newest alternative energy source
Report that this research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society
BOSTON, August 25, 2010 – Imagine units that capture electricity from the air – much like solar cells catch sunlight – and use them to light a house or charge an electric car. Imagine using similar panels on the roofs of buildings to prevent lightning strikes before it is formed. Strange as it may sound, researchers, are already at an early stage in developing such devices, according to a report presented here today at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
They extract electricity from the empty air
They extract electricity from the empty air. It is now possible to charge a smartphone using nothing but ambient sunlight and the specially-treated surface on which it rests.
In an article about the new technology, published today in Nature Nanotechnology, researchers from two Massachusetts institutions say they have identified a material that can serve as a solar battery not only for charging consumer devices but for storing electricity on a grand scale.
“Hide the wires, eliminate the plugs – it’s very attractive from that perspective,” said senior author Joel Jean, who runs MIT’s Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems. “The goal is to turn these new materials into something that could be part of our everyday lives.”
Jean and his colleagues call their material a “solar thermal electrochemical cell,” or STEP cell. It’s made from common materials including graphite, cobalt oxide, titanium dioxide, and silicon. In practice, it produces a small but steady electric current when exposed to the sun’s heat. Using an array of lenses that concentrate sunlight, researchers have shown that they can provide more power – even at night.
The STEP cell, which is still in an early stage of development, has electrical characteristics similar to those of a lithium-ion battery. “And you don’t have to build a big infrastructure around storing energy,” Jean said. “For the sake of convenience, people tend to want to be able to use their intermittent energy sources right away. This could help do that.”
Jean and his colleagues have been exploring the potential of solar power for years. In a 2013 paper, they showed how an array of semiconductor lasers could produce usable amounts of electricity from illuminating a single spot on a silicon surface.