AWES generating electricity from air, using Air-gen device?

AMHERST, Mass. – Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a device that uses a natural protein to create electricity from moisture in the air, a new technology they say could have significant implications for the future of renewable energy, climate change and in the future of medicine.

As reported today in Nature, the laboratories of electrical engineer Jun Yao and microbiologist Derek Lovley at UMass Amherst have created a device they call an “Air-gen.” or air-powered generator, with electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by the microbe Geobacter. The Air-gen connects electrodes to the protein nanowires in such a way that electrical current is generated from the water vapor naturally present in the atmosphere.

“We are literally making electricity out of thin air,” says Yao. “The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7.” Lovely, who has advanced sustainable biology-based electronic materials over three decades, adds, “It’s the most amazing and exciting application of protein nanowires yet.”

The new technology developed in Yao’s lab is non-polluting, renewable and low-cost. It can generate power even in areas with extremely low humidity such as the Sahara Desert. It has significant advantages over other forms of renewable energy including solar and wind, Lovley says, because unlike these other renewable energy sources, the Air-gen does not require sunlight or wind, and “it even works indoors.”

The Air-gen device requires only a thin film of protein nanowires less than 10 microns thick, the researchers explain. 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.

The researchers say that the current generation of Air-gen devices are able to power small electronics, and they expect to bring the invention to commercial scale soon. Next steps they plan include developing a small Air-gen “patch” that can power electronic wearables such as health and fitness monitors and smart watches, which would eliminate the requirement for traditional batteries. They also hope to develop Air-gens to apply to cell phones to eliminate periodic charging.

Yao says, “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.”

Continuing to advance the practical biological capabilities of Geobacter, Lovley’s lab recently developed a new microbial strain to more rapidly and inexpensively mass produce protein nanowires. “We turned E. coli into a protein nanowire factory,” he says. “With this new scalable process, protein nanowire supply will no longer be a bottleneck to developing these applications.”

The Air-gen discovery reflects an unusual interdisciplinary collaboration, they say. Lovley discovered the Geobacter microbe in the mud of the Potomac River more than 30 years ago. His lab later discovered its ability to produce electrically conductive protein nanowires. Before coming to UMass Amherst, Yao had worked for years at Harvard University, where he engineered electronic devices with silicon nanowires. They joined forces to see if useful electronic devices could be made with the protein nanowires harvested from Geobacter.

Xiaomeng Liu, a Ph.D. student in Yao’s lab, was developing sensor devices when he noticed something unexpected. He recalls, “I saw that when the nanowires were contacted with electrodes in a specific way the devices generated a current. I found that that exposure to atmospheric humidity was essential and that protein nanowires adsorbed water, producing a voltage gradient across the device.”

In addition to the Air-gen, Yao’s laboratory has developed several other applications with the protein nanowires. “This is just the beginning of new era of protein-based electronic devices” said Yao.

The research was supported in part from a seed fund through the Office of Technology Commercialization and Ventures at UMass Amherst and research development funds from the campus’s College of Natural Sciences.

Question: assuming that wind energy would be used to stay in the air or to fly crosswind (in addition to possibly convert wind energy into electricity), would kites or kytoons or blimps whose the fabrics is laminated with thin film of protein nanowires less than 10 microns thick, so including Air-gen device, be a possibility to massively carry Air-gen film to deliver significant electricity when this technology would become efficient (in the future, not in the past)? If yes would crosswind flight of the kite allow it to absorb more water vapor?

Would love to see some more validation and proofs before saying wow
looks cool though. Any data on power / m2 ? Voltage is easy enough. Your own cells generate extreme amounts of it across their small walls
I doubt forcing more water vapour through it makes a significant difference as the area of exposure probably governs the rate of reaction… otherwise water would probably work.

Mais il y a quand même un défaut. Pour l’instant, la technologie génère assez peu d’électricité. Il faut un voile de la taille d’un mur pour recharger un téléphone portable ou allumer une lampe. Donc en camping ou en randonnée, cela pourrait aller. Mais si on veut alimenter une maison entière, il faudra une installation beaucoup plus massive.

Les chercheurs ont toutefois promis d’améliorer les rendements. On vérifiera avec les premières installations tests en début d’année prochaine.


But there is a flaw. For now, the technology generates relatively little electricity. You need a wall-sized sail to charge a cell phone or turn on a lamp. So when camping or hiking, that might be fine. But if you want to power an entire house, you’ll need a much more massive installation.

However, the researchers have promised to improve the yields. We will check with the first test installations at the beginning of next year.

I have not yet found a really reliable source.

Since the expected efficiency would be low, why not consider kite with a large tail?

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I knew it. Just reading that first press-release, where it started out saying: “could have significant implications for the future of renewable energy, climate change and”
My thought was “this sounds like more BS”. There are a million ways to find little amounts of current from mother nature. Doesn’t necessarily mean there;s anything to get excited about.
Just one little problem after all that hype:
A slight “flaw” - it “generates relatively little electricity”… Who would have guessed? So the only little problem with this new way of generating electricity is that it doesn’t generate much electricity. Uh huh… sure. :slight_smile:

Some additional information:

All experts agree that the potential of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the networking of machines, warehouses, commercial vehicles, robots, and sensors, can only be truly exploited when the components are freed from cables. Not only does this make them more mobile and flexible to use, but the elimination of plugs and sockets, and thus contact problems and leaks, also makes them more reliable and low maintenance. It is possible, however, that wireless power transmission is only a transitional technology. Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst recently unveiled Air-gen, a fingernail-sized generator that produces electricity simply from air, or more precisely, from moisture in the air. The team, led by microbiologist Derek Lovley and physicist Jun Yao, uses electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by bacteria of the species Geobacter. Air-gen consists of an approximately 8-micrometer-thin film of such protein nanowires (e-PNs). The e-PNs form a loose network with nanochannels through which water molecules can move. The film is deposited on a 5×5-millimeter gold electrode. At the top, a smaller gold electrode (1×1 millimetre) only partially covers the film, allowing it to absorb water from the air and conduct it downward through the channels. Since it is harder for water to penetrate deeper layers, a constant concentration gradient is established.

20 hours of electricity is currently supplied by Airgen

Yao, an assistant professor at the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, explains the mechanism of electricity generation: “A water molecule that attaches to an e-PN gives off a partial electric charge to it. As a result of the concentration gradient, the charge density is greater in upper layers of the film than in lower ones, and this generates a voltage between the electrodes and a current flow”. For 20 hours, the Air-gen prototype provides continuous electric current to power small electronic components at 0.5 volts. After that, the mini-cell recharges in humid air for about 5 hours and repeats the cycle. The Amherst team believes it can significantly increase output power by modelling e-PN properties and even surpass the power density of solar cells by stacking many Air-gens. The advantages of Air-gen technology over renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are the following: Air-gen operates day and night; humidity is present everywhere and thus it would even work indoors, and it is independent of weather conditions. Prof. Lovley, head of the Department of Microbiology, believes: “Air-gen allows for environmentally friendly energy production that is far less constrained by location or environmental conditions than other sustainable approaches.” Researchers are currently working on tiny Air-gen units that can power wearables such as health and fitness monitors and smartwatches and combining multiple units will later make smartphones battery-independent. “Our long-term goal,” Yao says, “is to have highly scaled commercial units that make a significant contribution to sustainable power generation.” Lovley adds: “Geobacter is not suitable for technical mass production of e-PNs. So, we genetically modified Escherichia coli (E. coli), a much more robust bacterial species, to produce e-PNs at high yield.” E. coli cultures can be grown in large quantities at low cost using glycerol, a waste product of biodiesel production. This paves the way for sustainable mass production of Air-gen generators from renewable feedstocks. But it will take years of development work before it becomes clear whether this concept will remain a niche technology or can radically change the industrial and everyday world.

Perhaps a more reliable and light mean to supply electronic devices such like sensors, flight control modules and lighting of AWES.

Yes of course, it almost goes without saying, “internet of things” sensors could be powered by this. I think every article about new ways to find teeny amounts of electricity can be rationalized by mentioning ostensible future applications that only require teeny amounts of power - boom, energy crisis solved! I’m thinking about how we could take advantage of the spark you get from walking on a carpet. Maybe an automated shoe and a section of synthetic polymer carpeting, capacitors to capture the spark, maybe lithium ion battery to hold the power. I’m also thinking of a wind energy device based on a slamming door. We’ve all marveled at the power in the wind when it slams a door shut, right? How could we be letting this energy go to waste, uncaptured? We need to develop little slamming doors everywhere to power he internet of things. In fact it is looking like these two promising technologies could be combined, since both could use the same door - first slammed shut by the wind, then more power is generated by the spark when the shoe approaches the door and the mechanical finger then touches the doorknob. This might be a good project for someone - Jason? Are you busy right now? :slight_smile:

Indeed, we are talking here about fundamental sciences, not yet about this or that application. It remains to be seen whether this can lead to technological niches or to a real industrial revolution.

Let’s leave these great fields to the scientists instead of the usual mockery that only adds noise.

Yes, well, I appreciate where you;re coming from Pierre, but the larger point is all I have to do is check my email every day to see at least one, often more, brand-new, surefire energy solutions, most of them laughable at first glance, and the rest leading nowhere fast.
For alternative energy, as a topic, this is a pretty bad track record. And it goes on, every day, and a lot of AWE projects fit this same mold. Here’s another one that just came in - I don’t see anything wrong with it, other than it weighs 50 tons with a 16 kW power rating, but it’s another wave energy device, in another press-release: