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New ways to generate electricity from air on an ongoing basis

Researchers have developed a way to generate electricity without interruption 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which may revolutionize the world of renewable energy.

New ways to generate electricity from air on an ongoing basis

Generate electricity from the air

Engineers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a technology to generate electricity from water vapor in the air, which they call the "generic Air-gen effect", by using a material with nanopores with a diameter of fewer than 100 nanometers to generate electricity continuously, which may be a way to generate electricity continuously and efficiently.

How is electricity generated from air moisture?

Engineers generated electricity by forming lightning in clouds, and explained in the study published in the Journal of Advanced Materials that electricity is in the air, and we only have to find a way to harvest it, using any material that meets specific conditions.

"Air contains an enormous amount of electricity," says Jun Yao, lead author of the work and assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Engineering. “Think of a cloud, which is just a mass of water droplets. Each of these droplets has a charge, and when the conditions are ideal, the cloud can produce a lightning bolt, but we don't know how to safely harness lightning power. We created a small-scale man-made cloud that generates electricity predictably and consistently so that we may harvest it."

Ongoing research

This research builds on previous research (published in Nature in 2020) by co-researcher Derek Lovely, a professor of microbiology at the same university, who showed that electricity could be harvested using a specific material made of protein nanowires generated from the bacteria (Geobacter sulfurreducens), the air is continually extracted. This new research demonstrated that electricity could be generated in the presence of any material with nanopores with similar properties.

The working principle of the method

The method is based on a principle called the "average free path", which is the distance that one molecule of a substance travels before it collides with one more molecule of the same meaning, and in this case, the water vapor present in the air is the substance, and the average free path is about 100 nanometers, so the most important characteristic of the material generating electricity in this way is that it contains holes smaller than 100 nanometers, less than one-thousandth the width of a human hair.

Based on this principle, the researchers designed a device consisting of a thin layer of material rich in nanopores smaller than 100 nanometers in diameter that allow water molecules to traverse the material from top to bottom.

Because the pores are so small, water molecules will easily collide with their edges as they pass through the film. This means that the top part of the layer will be bombarded with many more charge-carrying water molecules than the bottom part, leading to a charge imbalance, just as happens in a rain cloud that has more charge in the upper part than in the lower part.

Based on this simple idea, a battery can be created that works as long as there is moisture in the air, and this battery can be made from a wide range of active materials, and at the same reasonable cost, in addition to that the appropriate material can be chosen for the environment in which the battery is located, from rainforests or even arid regions.

Layers of this material can be stacked inside the device to increase the energy produced efficiently so that the pneumatic system can provide energy at the kilowatt level for general use of electrical facilities.

future revolution

This technology is expected to constitute a revolution in producing renewable energy. Unlike wind or solar energy, it works 24 hours a day, seven days a week without interruption, at a reasonable and scalable cost. It is not affected by weather conditions like other methods that work in certain conditions. Water vapor is constantly present in the atmosphere.

"Imagine a world in the future where clean electricity is everywhere you go," says Yao. "The general air gene effect implies that this future world is a possibility."