“What he invented, you can imagine it like a tiny man-made cloud,” said Jun Yao, a professor of engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and lead author of the study. “It really is a massive, very accessible source of continuous clean electricity. Imagine having clean electricity available wherever you go.”
This could include a forest, while hiking on a mountain, in the desert, in a rural village, or on the road.
An air-powered generator, otherwise known as an “air generator,” will provide continuous clean electricity because it uses energy from moisture, which is always present, rather than relying on the sun or wind. Unlike solar panels or wind turbines, which need specific environments to thrive, wind generators can go anywhere, Yao said.
However, lower humidity means less energy can be harvested. Winter, with dry air, produces less energy than summer.
The device, about the size of a fingernail and thinner than a single hair, is dotted with tiny holes known as nanopores. The holes are smaller than 100 nanometers in diameter, or less than a thousandth the width of a human hair strand.
The tiny holes allow water in the air to pass through in such a way that it unbalances the charge in the top and bottom parts of the device, resulting in a battery that works continuously.
“We’re opening the door wide for clean electricity from the air,” said Xiaomeng Liu, another author and graduate student in engineering at UMass, in a statement.
While one prototype only produces a small amount of power — roughly enough to power a blip of light on a large screen — due to its size, Yao said the Air-gens can be stacked on top of each other, with voids of air in between. . He added that storing electricity is a separate issue.
Yao estimated that roughly a billion wind generators, stacked to be about the size of a refrigerator, could produce kilowatts and partially power a home under ideal conditions. The team hopes to reduce the number of devices required and the space they take up by making the tool more efficient. Doing so can be a challenge.
Scientists must first determine which materials are most effective for use in different climates. Ultimately, Yao said he hopes to develop a strategy to make the device larger without blocking moisture that can be captured. as he wants Discover how to stack devices efficiently and how to engineer Air-gen so a device of the same size can capture more power.
It is not clear how long this will take.
“Once we improve this, you can put it anywhere,” Yao said.
It can be incorporated into wall painting at home, made on a larger scale in an unused space in town or scattered throughout hard-to-reach spaces in the office. And because it can use almost any material, it may draw less from the environment other forms of renewable energy.
“The whole earth is covered in a thick layer of moisture,” Yao said. It is a great source of clean energy. This is just the beginning of taking advantage of that.”
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