Researchers at the University of Massachusetts have developed a method for extracting energy from rarefied air. They have created a tiny device that generates electricity from atmospheric humidity, which could significantly advance the world’s renewable energy goals.
According to the researchers, since the air is always moist, the device could generate energy 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or, in other words, present itself as an endless energy source.
The science underlying the discovery is relatively straightforward and harmless. Air contains vast quantities of electricity and clouds, which are composed of multitudes of water droplets, each of which contains a charge capable of producing a lightning discharge.
We did not previously understand how to reliably capture electricity from lightning. However, according to a study published in the journal Advanced Materials, we can capture it using a variety of inorganic, organic, and biological materials.
Researchers have essentially constructed a small-scale cloud that generates electricity. If the device has perforations smaller than 100 nanometers, it can be used to generate electricity.
“This is quite thrilling. Graduate student and one of the paper’s primary authors Xiaomeng Liu stated, “We are paving the way for the harvesting of clean electricity from thin air.”
“The concept is straightforward, but it has never been discovered before, and it opens up a wide variety of opportunities. You could envision harvesters made of one material for rainforest environments and another for more arid regions,” Jun Yao, co-author of the new paper, added.
Other scientific advancements
In their endeavor to generate electricity from thin air, researchers at Monash University in Melbourne have also made extraordinary advances. The scientists discovered a hydrogen-consuming enzyme from a ubiquitous soil bacterium that generates electrical electricity from the atmosphere.
The microbes Mycobacterium smegmatis produce the enzyme Huc (pronounced “Huck”), which allows them to persist in harsh conditions.
Early applications of Huc, according to the scientists, include energizing small air-powered devices that could serve as an alternative to solar-powered devices.
The next stage is to scale up production so that sufficient quantities of Huc can be produced for use on a meaningful scale.