New green technology generates electricity 'out of thin air'
Engineers and microbiologists have collaborated to invent a device that generates electricity out of literally thin air. They call this incredible bit of Tech. The Air Jen relies on tiny strands of protein. Farmed from bacteria these so-called Protein Nana wires absorb trace amounts of humidity in the air. I'm produced Electricity of the moment. The Air Jen compiler only small electronic devices. But it's inventors from the University of Massachusetts Amherst have big plans to scale it up Phil. Sansom spoke to one of them. Dirt lovely to find out how it works. We've developed a new type of sustainable. Electricity Production. Don't require sunlight. We don't require wind. We can make power twenty four seven from the humidity in air. I gotta be honest. It sounds like science fiction. I know and that's was our initial two. We spent many months trying to discredit the idea. But it all checks out an remarkably. We can make electricity literally from thin air. So how does it work? It's very simple device with two electrodes and in a new type of electric material called Protein Anna wires and those wires absorb moisture from the air and generate a voltage and current. What am I picturing here? Are there to bits of metal and then something in between them. That's correct basically a sandwich with the protein and wires in between two electrodes. What is a protein nano? Wire it is a filament. Three nanometers diameter ten to twenty microns. Long comprised of protein that we produce with a microorganism called Gio b-actor Ju- backers a common constituent of soils and sediments. It produces those wires to make electrical connections with its environment. So it's little molecules that are around the edge of this bacteria little molecules produced inside the bacteria. It assembles them into the wireless. The wire is produced. It pushes it out of the cell so the cell looks hairy. Basically there has hairs extending all from it. Those are the protein in wires are you. Are you farming these bacteria and then shaving them like sheep absolutely? That's exactly what we're doing. How physically do you deal with them? Because they must be too small to tweezers off right absolutely. But it's quite a simple process. We throw them into a blender which will share the wires off of the cell and then we collect the wires. Ana filter and so. How many do you get at once? Billions and billions. Of course they're so small it's only micrograms from a relatively large number of microbes. Wow and then you attach them to the metal actually We just suspend them in water. Put trump that water on the electrode and let the water trail once you've done that. What's the point of all this? What are they doing once? They're actually on the electrode they start making electrcity ity. I mean this was very surprising result to us. We were actually working with the protein and wires to make wearable electric sensors and then even without applying any electricity to this system generating electricity itself. This was almost an accidental discovery. Absolutely serendipitous so do. Do you know how it works. Then we think we know which is long as it works okay. Of course we certainly are trying to uncover more of the basic mechanisms and what we do know so far. Is that film of the protein? Wires absorbs moisture from the atmosphere in creates a gradient of water because only the top is exposed to the atmosphere. And then how does that water then translate into electric charge? The protean wires have charges associated with them and are exchanging protons. So it's basically setting up a gradient of protons within that film. So is the cool part. How tiny these wires are or is it the way that the charges work on the wires themselves. I think it's both you need to have tiny wires with tiny pores in between the wires but they also have to have this charge in order to get the voltage gradient. And how much electricity can you actually get out right now? We're making small amounts of power and the reason for that is the initial devices. Were quite small. This was because we could not produce a large quantity of wires with Chey b-actor. We've now constructed a new microbe. A strain of e-coli which is very easy to grow can be grown in large quantities so we can mass produce the wires and once. They're mass produce. What's the potential? How power can you get out of this? Everything did I'm going to say next is theoretical because we've only made the small devices but with continued scaling that device say the size of a refrigerator could in theory generate enough electrical power to power say small home and doesn't matter if you're in a really really humid. Do you have to be in the rainforest for example? No that is another fantastic part of this process. It can work over wide range of humidity say even as low as you would find in the Sahara desert energy from thin air. Just sounds touchdown. Believable doesn't it. That was lovely from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. And you can read about their Jen. If you're so inclined it's published this week in the journal Nature