Air-powered generator creates electricity 'out of thin air'

Rodiano Bonacci
Febbraio 19, 2020

Scientists hope this cutting-edge tech could revolutionise renewable energy, with significant implications for climate change. It is made using ultrasmall electrically conductive protein wires produced by the microbe Geobacter which was discovered in the mud of the Potomac River in the United States more than 30 years ago.

The wires are related to electrodes and perform electricity employing naturally present h2o vapour in the air.

The claim may sound like an overstatement, but a new study by Yao and his team describes how the air-powered generator can indeed create electricity with nothing but the presence of air around it. 'The Air Gen generates clean energy 24/7'.

"It's the most fantastic and exciting application of protein nanowires yet", said Lovley.

Working in the device's favour is that it is non-polluting, renewable, low-priced and flexible.

The team explained that the Air-gen device needs just a thin film of protein nanowires with a thickness of less than 10 μm.

The bottom of the film sets on an electrode, while a smaller wire that covers a part of the nanowire film sits on prime. "I found that exposure to atmospheric humidity was essential and that protein nanowires adsorbed water, producing a voltage gradient across the device", he said.

However, Yao said that they would soon produce more Air-Gen devices in order to allow the public to use their invention anywhere they go.

Correct now, the Air-gen is only impressive ample for smaller digital gadgets, but its builders want to scale up.

Though the device requires moisture, it doesn't need to be all that humid for the technology to work. They can be applied to smartphones to do away with periodic charging.

Yao says that their ultimate goal is to build large-scale systems.

The next step will be to develop small marketable patches that use the Air Gen technology and could be incorporated into other devices.

The scientists recently engineered a new microbial strain to more rapidly and inexpensively mass produce the protein wires.

How to use air-gen?

In addition, Lovley's lab has managed to develop a filter that can produce protein nanowires on a large scale and fairly quickly. "With this new scalable process, protein nanowire supply will no longer be a bottleneck to developing these applications". Lovley discovered the Geobacter microbe in the mud of the Potomac River more than 30 years ago.

Produced by a type of bacteria known as Geobacter, the nanowires themselves are made of an electrically-conductive protein.

He recalled, "I saw that when the nanowires were contacted with electrodes in a specific way the devices generated a current".

In addition to the Air-gen, Yao's laboratory has developed several other applications with the protein nanowires.

"This is just the beginning of a new era of protein-based electronic devices", Yao said. Now, the researchers are seeking to bring their innovation to commercial scale.

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