New renewable device generates electricity ''out of thin air''

Pablo Tucker
February 19, 2020

Scientists on the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a tool that makes use of a pure protein to create electrical energy from moisture within the air, a brand new know-how they are saying may have vital implications for the way forward for renewable vitality, local weather change and in the way forward for medication.

Air-gen works through an electrically conductive protein nanowire that the microbe Geobacter produces. The unique combination is capable of generating electricity from moisture that is naturally present in the air.

"The Air-gen generates clean energy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week", said Jun Yao, co-author of the UMass Amherst study.

"The Air-gen generates cleanse strength 24/7", Lovley explained. He added that "It's the most wonderful and exciting application of protein nanowires yet".

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

Even in its current prototype state, the device is already able to power small electronics, and it works in areas as dry as the Sahara Desert.

All that's required is a thin film of protein nanowires less than 10 microns thick, with the bottom of the film resting on an electrode. The underside of the movie rests on an electrode, whereas a smaller electrode that covers a part of the nanowire movie exclusively sits on high.

As the film absorbs water, the electrical conductivity and surface chemistry of the protein nanowires is excited.

Following that the team has their sights set on mobile phones to eliminate the need for periodic charging.

"The ultimate goal is to make large-scale systems", Dr. Yao said.

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

'Once we get to an industrial scale for wire production, I fully expect that we can make large systems that will make a major contribution to sustainable energy production'.

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

By contrast, the Air-gen produces a sustained voltage of around 0.5 volts, with a current density of about 17 microamperes per square centimetre.

"We turned E. coli into a protein nanowire factory", Lovley said. The Geobacter microbe was discovered by Lovley over three decades ago.

"With this new scalable process, protein nanowire supply will no longer be a bottleneck in developing these applications".

Decades ago, scientists discovered an unusual microbe, G. sulfurreducens, which cannot only produce magnetite without oxygen, but it can also make bacterial nano-wires that conduct electricity. Prior to joining UMass Amherst, Yao had worked at Harvard University for many years and designed electronic devices using silicon nanowires.

Xiaomeng Liu, a Ph.D. student in Yao's laboratory, was creating sensor devices when he came across an unusual thing. He recalls, "I saw that when the nanowires were contacted with electrodes in a specific way the devices generated a current". Now, the researchers are seeking to bring their innovation to commercial scale.

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