A pioneering discovery in the field of renewable energy
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“The idea has not been discovered before”: a research team from the United States has achieved a major breakthrough: any substance can produce electricity from air under certain conditions. © MiS / IMAGO

A research team from the United States has made a breakthrough: Any material can, under certain conditions, produce electricity from air.

AMHERST – In times of climate change, the topic of renewable energies is becoming even more important. However, producing electricity from solar or wind power has one drawback: power generation is highly dependent on sunlight or wind levels. But now a research team from the University of Massachusetts Amherst has presented a possibility that could revolutionize electricity production.

Xiaomeng Liu’s team discovered the so-called “general air gene effect”. “The air contains a huge amount of electricity,” explains co-author Jun Yao. “Think of a cloud, which is nothing but a mass of water droplets. Each of these droplets has a charge and if the conditions are right, the cloud can generate a bolt of lightning.” “We don’t know how to reliably obtain energy from lightning. However, we have evolved a small cloud that produces energy in a way that is predictable and continuous for us, so that we can harvest it,” Yao explains in one Communication from his university.

Groundbreaking discovery in renewable energy: Researchers generate clean electricity from air

A few years ago, researchers developed a device that could be used to extract energy from air. They used protein nanowires produced by a bacterium called Geobacter sulfurreducens. However, in their current research they found that bacteria are not essential. According to the researchers, the ability to generate electricity from air is more universal: Any material can make this energy generation possible, as long as it has a certain property.

The property: “It should contain holes smaller than 100 nanometers, less than a thousandth the width of a human hair,” Yao explains. Background is a parameter called “mean free path”. It is the distance one molecule of water travels in the air before it collides with one more molecule of the same substance. For water molecules in the air, that’s about 100 nanometers.

A thin layer of material can charge water molecules and thus produce electricity

Based on this finding, the research team developed a thin material layer with nanopores smaller than 100 nanometers. This layer allows water molecules to pass from top to bottom, but they easily collide with the edge of the pores. This leads to a charge imbalance, similar to that in a cloud, where the top of the layer has a higher charge compared to the bottom. This charge can be used to power small devices or store energy in a battery.

“The idea is simple, but it hasn’t been discovered before and it opens up many possibilities,” Yao says happily. Power harvesters can be made from a variety of materials. “One could imagine harvesters made of one material for rainforest environments and another for drier regions,” says the researcher. Thanks to the moisture in the air, the device can operate 24/7, regardless of weather conditions, time of day or night, and availability of sun or wind.

The discovery is still at a very early stage

Although the research team’s discovery is still in its infancy, there are promising findings. Like the ScienceAlert portal mentionedOne can study it in the journal Advanced materials published Read that the cellulose film the team tested has a voltage of up to 260 millivolts – a smartphone or tablet normally requires a voltage of 5 volts. However, the team believes that by stacking several thousand layers, the amount of energy can be increased without increasing the area of ​​the device.

“Imagine a world in the future where clean electricity is everywhere,” says Yao. “The general air gene effect means that this futuristic world can become a reality.”

Machine assistance was used in this editorial article. The article was carefully screened by editor Tanya Banner before it was published.


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