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What if you could make electricity out of thin air? Does it sound too good to be true? Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed just such a device and they call it the "Air-gen."
Air-gen is the invention of electrical engineer Jun Yao and microbiologist Derek Lovley.
Out of thin air
"We are literally making electricity out of thin air," said in a statement, Yao. "The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7."
The novel device uses a natural protein to create electricity from moisture in the air. The technology is renewable, non-polluting and low-cost.
Unlike other forms of renewable energy such as wind and solar, this new tech does not require sunlight or wind. All it needs is a thin film of protein nanowires.
"It's the most amazing and exciting application of protein nanowires yet," said Lovley.
Here is how it works according to a University of Massachusetts Amherst statement:
"The bottom of the film rests on an electrode, while a smaller electrode that covers only part of the nanowire film sits on top. The film adsorbs water vapor from the atmosphere. A combination of the electrical conductivity and surface chemistry of the protein nanowires, coupled with the fine pores between the nanowires within the film, establishes the conditions that generate an electrical current between the two electrodes."
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The current Air-gen devices can already power small electronics. Now, the researchers are seeking to bring their innovation to commercial scale.
"The ultimate goal is to make large-scale systems. For example, the technology might be incorporated into wall paint that could help power your home. Or, we may develop stand-alone air-powered generators that supply electricity off the grid. 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," said Yao.
Yao adds that the current applications are "just the beginning of a new era of protein-based electronic devices." We can only imagine what the future holds!