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US engineers develop technology to produce clean energy from wind |  Energy and Science

US engineers develop technology to produce clean energy from wind | Energy and Science

This is not a science fiction or space movie script. Scientists in the US have found a way to produce clean energy from the air – and the prototype resembles the Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987) movie replica of producing anything from excess waste. In real life, the device is called Air-Gen, a mobile electricity-generating device that uses a network of protein nanowires to convert moisture in the air into “energy storms.”

Scientists described the phenomenon as “small-scale clouds” that can produce electricity predictably and consistently under a wide variety of conditions. The Daily Mail points out that they don’t depend on the sun or the wind like cells do for solar and wind energy.

“There is an enormous amount of electricity in the wind,” explains Jun Yao, senior author of the study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the US. “Think of a cloud, which is nothing more than a mass of water droplets. Each of these water droplets has a charge, and when the conditions are right, the cloud can produce lightning, but we still don’t know how to reliably capture electricity from lightning.”

Air-Gen solves this problem by mimicking the conditions of energetic storm clouds and trapping charged vapor inside a network of tiny nano-sized pores. A variety of materials can be used to derive energy from this technique. “The material needs to have pores that are only 100 nm (nanometers), or less than one-thousandth the width of a human hair,” explains Yao.

The 100 nm scale is critical to this process because it measures what chemists know as the “mean free path” — the distance a molecule of water vapor can float in air before colliding with another.

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How the technology was developed

When researchers began testing the technology three years ago, they used a special material of protein nanowires made from a bacterial culture of Geobacter sulfurreducens. Yao and his team confirmed that they could continuously collect electricity using the ‘wind generation effect’.

Through the tiny 100 nm pores, the researchers realized that water molecules could generate an electrical charge as they passed through their nanotubes. The Air-Gen system creates a charge imbalance because the top end of the hole system accumulates charge as opposed to the bottom end, similar to the two sides of the battery.

“The idea is simple, but it hasn’t been invented yet — and it opens up all kinds of possibilities,” Yao says. The results of the research, which presented advances in technology, were published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Unlike solar cells, which require advanced and sometimes toxic materials to collect the sun’s rays, Air-Gen’s nanopore system can be designed from a variety of environmentally friendly materials.

“What we realized after making the discovery was the ability to generate electricity from air – we called it the ‘wind generation effect’. Virtually any type of material can extract electricity from air. A tiny 100 nm pore structure,” he said.

Now, researchers want to understand which materials can be used according to each climate. Another challenge is scaling the technology. According to the Washington Post, it is one of the possibilities to be attached to wall paints and installed in passive spaces in cities.

Unlimited energy?

For Yao and his team, the concept has the potential to be used around the world. “You can imagine wind-gen devices made of one type of material for rainforest environments, and another for arid regions,” he said.

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Since humidity is not a rare weather phenomenon, Air-Gen can work 24/7, day or night, in any weather. The devices are stacked in thousands on top of each other and are capable of producing 1 kilowatt of electricity per cubic meter of space.

“Imagine a future world where clean electricity is available everywhere you go,” Yao said. “The Air-Zen effect means that this future world will become a reality.”