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Innovative Nanotechnology Harvests Electricity from Air Humidity

published: 2023-06-16 9:30

In an exciting scientific breakthrough, a team from the University of Massachusetts Amherst has discovered a way to harness electricity from air humidity using nanopores, effectively enabling energy generation in diverse environments, be it a rainforest or a desert. This novel method only requires a sieve with nanopores less than 100 nm in diameter.      

The team built upon their previous research where they cultivated nanowires from a bacterium known as Geobacter sulferrenducens. By exploiting these nanowires’ inherent chemical properties and incorporating tiny pores in a film, the team was able to generate electricity even in environments with low humidity.

In their most recent study, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Jun Yao, further identified that the effectiveness of this electricity generation is not dependent on the type of nanowires used, but largely on the size of the pores within the film.

Yao explained that the team came to recognize the untapped potential of generating electricity from air due to the characteristics of the Geobacter. They realized that virtually any material could harvest electricity from air, provided it possessed specific properties. One particular property pertains to the “mean free path”—the distance a molecule travels before it collides with another molecule. In the context of water molecules in the air (humidity), this distance is 100 nm.

(Source: University of Massachusetts Amherst)

The team’s innovative design involves a two-layer nanofilm. The top layer of the film is pierced with holes smaller than 100 nm in diameter, functioning much like a finely-wrought sieve. When water molecules accumulate on the upper layer of the film and attempt to pass through the pores, a natural electric charge is generated. This electrical imbalance between the layers results in the generation of an electric current, akin to how lightning is produced within clouds.  

Yao expressed that the system can theoretically be constructed from a wide variety of materials since the energy-generating property is based entirely on the size of the pores. He further believes, "The idea is simple but it’s never been discovered before, and it opens all kinds of possibilities.”

Despite the system’s dependence on atmospheric moisture, the team has highlighted that it doesn’t require abundant humidity to function. Theoretically, it can even operate in arid environments such as deserts. This innovative research brings us a step closer to harnessing clean energy from the very air that surrounds us, opening up a new frontier in renewable energy generation.   

 (Image Source: pixabay)

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