Producing electricity from thin air? It’s possible with Air-gen


Photo credit: UMass Amherst/Yao and Lovley labs

Researchers from the American University of Massachusetts Amherst have invented a device — Air-gen (air-powered generator) — that uses a natural protein to create electricity from humidity in the air. In their opinion, this technology could have interesting implications for the future of renewable energy, climate change, and the future of medicine.

Air-gen consists of a film barely a dozen microns thick, made up of protein nanowires extracted from the bacterium Geobacter sulfurreducens. This film manages to generate electricity from that contained in the atmosphere, as demonstrated by the work of microbiologist Derek Lovley and researcher Jun Yao, published in the journal Nature. "We are literally making electricity out of thin air. The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7. It's the most amazing and exciting application of protein nanowires yet,”  explains Jun Yao. 

Proteins that conduct electricity

Producing electricity ‘out of thin air’? It may seem incredible and yet the article describes how Air-gen creates energy using only the air around it. 

This is how it works: the proteins in the nanowires are electrically conductive. The film made up of nanowires is placed between two electrodes and exposed to the air. The film’s pores absorb the water vapor contained in the atmosphere. A moisture gradient is created and causes ionization of the film: positive charges move in one direction and electrons in the other. 

This electricity is non-polluting and may be produced at low cost with inert carbon electrodes. Air-gen does not need sunlight or wind, unlike solar and wind power. It also works indoors and can produce electricity even in areas with extremely low humidity, such as deserts.

The next step for the researchers is developing an Air-gen patch capable of powering electronic devices such as health monitors, smartwatches and cell phones, which would make it possible to do away with batteries and periodic charging. 

Produced on an industrial scale, this technology could even be incorporated into the walls of houses to supply them with electricity. 



“This Device Generates Electricity From Vapor In The Air,” Intelligent Living, December 7, 2020 -