Renewable device uses bacteria to harness electricity 'out of thin air'

Renewable device uses bacteria to harness electricity 'out of thin air'

Renewable device uses bacteria to harness electricity 'out of thin air'

To build the device, scientists placed a thin film of protein nanowires atop an electrode.

'It's the most unbelievable and exciting application of protein nanowires yet, ' said microbiologist Derek Lovley, who discovered the geobacter microbe more than 30 years ago.

Similar experiments have been conducted previously using nano materials like graphene, but they only produced intermittent, short bursts of electricity, rather than a "continuous voltage output" like the Air Gen system.

As you may have guessed, this form of energy generation is non-polluting and renewable and low-priced.

According to researchers at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst in the USA. "The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7", said Jun Yao, study co-author from UMass Amherst. Unlike these, Lovely said that the Air-gen doesn't require sunlight or wind, and it's also working indoors as well.

Now the Air-gen is only powerful enough for small electronic devices, but its developers want to scale up.

The generator uses a film of nanometre scale (one billionth of a metre) protein wires harvested from Geobacter sulfurreducens, a microbe that can produce electricity.

According to the researchers, the air-powered generator only requires a thin film of protein nanowire that's less than 10 microns.

Batteries in our smartphones are getting bigger and better, but the multiple day battery life being claimed by some manufacturers pales in comparison to never having to worry about charging your phone. The bottom of the protein nanowires has an electrode that has a smaller electrode inside.

Even in its current prototype state, the device is already able to power small electronics, and it works in areas as dry as the Sahara Desert. 'For example, the technology might be incorporated into wall paint that could help power your home. Or, we may develop stand-alone air-powered generators that supply electricity off the grid.

"Once we reach an industrial scale for wire production, I hope we can make large systems that contribute significantly to sustainable energy production", he added.

Continuing to advance the practical biological capabilities of Geobacter, Lovley's lab recently developed a new microbial strain to more rapidly and inexpensively mass produce protein nanowires. His lab later discovered its ability to produce electrically conductive protein nanowires.

"We turned E. coli into a protein nanowire factory", Lovley says.

A breakthrough in the development came from one particular of Yao's PhD pupils, Xiaomeng Liu, who was producing sensor products when he manufactured an incredible discovery. This part will absorb the water vapor that is coming from the atmosphere- this will then help on producing electrical current on both electrodes.

In addition to the Air-gen, Yao's laboratory has developed several other applications with the protein nanowires. "With this new scalable process, protein nanowire supply will no longer be a bottleneck to developing these applications", Lovely said. Now, the researchers are seeking to bring their innovation to commercial scale.

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