Scientists Make Electricity From Thin Air

Scientists have created a small device that can draw electricity from the moisture in the air with little pollution, the Washington Post reported.

According to a research paper published in Advanced Materials, an air-powered generator, which could be made from any material, turns the energy in humid air into electricity.

The senior author of the study, UMass Amherst engineering professor Jun Yao said what they invented could be described as a “small-scale, man-made cloud.”

The air-powered Air-gen generator would provide continuous electricity because, unlike wind or solar, it uses humidity which is always present in any environment.

Yao said wind turbines and solar panels need specific environments to provide electricity whereas the Air-gen can create electricity virtually anywhere. He conceded that less energy would be harvested in areas with less humidity. Likewise, the drier air in winter would also produce less electricity than summer air. 

The Air-gen device is about the size of a fingernail and thinner than a strand of hair. The surface features tiny holes called nanopores, that are smaller than 100 nanometers in diameter. The nanopores allow the moisture in the air to pass through the device creating a charge imbalance in the upper and lower parts, effectively creating a continuously-running battery.

UMass engineering graduate student Xiomeng Liu, another author of the study, described the Air-gen as “harvesting clean electricity from thin air.”

While one tiny Air-gen prototype can only produce a small amount of energy, Yao said the devices can be stacked on top of each other.

According to Professor Yao, stacking 1 billion Air-gens together could produce a kilowatt of electricity which could, under ideal conditions, partly power a home.

With the current prototype, one billion devices would create a stack roughly the size of a refrigerator. Eventually, the team hopes to reduce the number of devices needed and lower the amount of space they take up by making it more efficient.