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Fascinating Device Pulls Energy from the Air

Credit: UMass Amherst/Yao and Lovley Labs

And they said an energy solution couldn’t come out of thin air.

You know what I hate? Humid days. Humidity makes you hot and sweaty, but it’s usually raining outside, you need to wear a coat or something. It’s not a pleasant state of being. That being said, I would happily endure humid days if it meant we could get a clean source of energy. Basically, this was all a really clumsy segue into talking about a very promising device.

Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed the Air-Gen, a fascinating little doodad that can generate electricity by pulling in ambient moisture from the air. The sun goes down, wind slows down, water dries up, but air? We’ve got plenty of air (at least as long as we have trees).

The Air-Gen’s secret weapon is a naturally occurring microbe called geobacter. Geobacter produces protein nanowires that naturally conduct electricity. Tape a few to an electrode, and boom, power from air moisture. Heck, it doesn’t even need that much moisture to make a charge. The researchers have said the Air-Gen would work even in the middle of the Sahara Desert.

Credit: University of Massachusetts Amherst

The heads of the project, electrical engineer Jun Yao and microbiologist Derek Lovley, are quite proud of their invention. “We are literally making electricity out of thin air,” Yao said. “The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7.”

At its current developmental stage, the Air-Gen is capable of providing consistent power to small electronics. As a test case, Yao and Lovley are currently working on an Air-Gen “patch” that you can wear on your clothes to serve as a battery for your phone and whatnot. After that, though, the scaling possibilities are endless.

“The ultimate goal is to make large-scale systems,” Yao explained. “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.”

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