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Making Electricity Out of Thin Air

The University of Massachusetts Amherst scientists have created electricity from moisture in the air by using a natural protein they call “Air-gen”. This new technology could have a significant impact for the future of renewable energy and climate change. Since moisture in the air contains an electrical charge, the technology is low-cost, renewable, and non-polluting.

The Air-gen does not require sunlight or wind and it can even generate electricity in dry regions, such as the desert, as it requires only a thin film of protein nanowires less than 10 microns thick. The process works as the bottom of the film rests on an electrode, while a smaller electrode that covers only part of the nanowire film sits on top, allowing the film to absorb water vapor from the atmosphere. The combination of the electrical conductivity and surface chemistry coupled with the fine pores between the nanowires, establish the conditions that generate an electrical current between the electrodes.

Researchers say that the current of the Air-gen devices are able to create enough electricity to power small electronics. Their next steps are plans to develop a patch that can power electronic wearables, such as smart watches, that would eliminate the need for traditional batteries. The ultimate goal is to make large-scale systems that could be incorporated into a wall paint that could help in powering the home, or they may develop stand-alone air-powered generators that supply electricity off the grid.


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