Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Can Electricity Be Generated From the Air?

By Nidhi Agarwal

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Engineers refer to the “generic Air-gen effect,” which involves engineering nanopores in almost any material to efficiently harvest scalable, cost-effective, and uninterrupted electricity.

Nanopores are the secret to making electricity from thin air. These nanopores allow water molecules to pass through and create a charge imbalance, essentially forming a battery that runs as long as there is humidity. Credit: Derek Lovley/Ella Maru Studio
Nanopores are the secret to making electricity from thin air. These nanopores allow water molecules to pass through and create a charge imbalance, essentially forming a battery that runs as long as there is humidity. Credit: Derek Lovley/Ella Maru Studio

Access to clean energy 24/7 is crucial for a sustainable and resilient future. It ensures reduced carbon emissions, mitigates climate change, fosters energy independence, promotes environmental health, and paves the way for a greener and more sustainable world for future generations.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have discovered a breakthrough method called the “generic Air-gen effect.” This groundbreaking discovery enables the continuous electricity generation from air humidity, utilizing any material featuring nanopores smaller than 100 nanometers. The scalable and uninterrupted technique enables affordable, continuous electricity generation from diverse materials, surpassing the limitations of condition-dependent renewables.

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Air holds vast electricity. Mimicking clouds, the researchers have built a predictable, continuous small-scale cloud to capture and harvest electricity reliably. The man-made cloud relies on the “generic Air-gen effect,” harnessing continuous electricity from the air. It builds upon the discovery of harvesting electricity from the air using protein nanowires from Geobacter sulfurreducens bacteria. After discovering the Geobacter’s electricity generation from the air, the team found that the “Air-gen effect” is universal: any material with sub-100 nm holes can harvest electricity. The “mean free path” parameter determines the distance water molecules in the air travel before colliding with each other, approximately 100 nm.

The team devised an electricity harvester using sub-100 nm nanopores in a thin material layer. Water molecules passing through collide with pore edges, creating a charge imbalance akin to clouds. This forms a humidity-powered battery that operates indefinitely. The researchers explain that the concept is novel and full of potential, offering various possibilities. The harvester’s design can be flexible, utilizing a wide range of materials for affordable and adaptable construction. For instance, different materials could be used for harvesters in rainforests or arid environments. The harvester runs constantly, regardless of weather or wind, as humidity is always present. This overcomes the limitations of weather-dependent technologies like wind or solar power.

Due to their thinness, air-gen devices can be stacked in large numbers, efficiently increasing energy capacity without expanding the device’s footprint. This enables kilowatt-level power for widespread electrical utility usage. The researchers envision a future where clean electricity is universally accessible, thanks to the universal Air-gen effect.

Reference: “Generic Air-gen Effect in Nanoporous Materials for Sustainable Energy Harvesting from Air Humidity” by Xiaomeng Liu, Hongyan Gao, Lu Sun and Jun Yao, 5 May 2023, Advanced Materials.
DOI: 10.1002/adma.202300748

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