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Air-gen creates a new generation of possibilities

In a groundbreaking discovery, scientists have found that almost any material can be used to convert the energy from air into electricity. 

This remarkable breakthrough paves the way for continuous production of clean energy with little to no pollution. This research, published in the journal Advanced Materials, adds on to a previous study conducted in 2020 which demonstrated extraction of energy from air moisture using materials derived from bacteria. The recent study reveals that a wide range of materials, such as wood and silicone, can be utilized as long as they can be fragmented into tiny particles and reassembled with microscopic pores. However, challenges regarding scalability of the product remain.


The senior author of the study, Jun Yao, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, describes the invention as akin to a miniature man-made cloud. This innovation, named “Air-gen”, represents an easily accessible and vast source of continuous clean electricity. Air-gen offers the possibility of clean energy available to anyone who needs it wherever they are, whether in a forest, during a mountain hike, in a desert, a rural village, or on the road. 


Unlike solar panels or wind turbines that require specific circumstances to operate, Air-gens can potentially function in any location, making them incredibly versatile. However, it is important to note that lower levels of humidity would result in reduced energy harvesting. For instance, winters with drier air would produce less energy compared to summers.


The device is incredibly compact, about the size of a fingernail and thinner than a single human hair. It features nanopores smaller than 100 nanometers, which allow water molecules to pass through and create a charge imbalance that generates electricity. Although a single prototype generates a small amount of energy, stacking them together can significantly increase output. However, storing the electricity remains a challenge that needs to be addressed separately.


According to Jun Yao, around 1 billion Air-gens in a stack could produce a kilowatt of electricity, partially powering a home. The research team aims to improve device efficiency, reduce the number of required devices, and optimize their size for capturing humidity. These goals pose significant challenges, such as identifying efficient materials for different climates and developing effective stacking strategies.


Yao envisions a future where Air-gens are widely used. They can be integrated into wall paint, manufactured on a larger scale in urban spaces, or strategically placed in hard-to-reach areas of offices. Due to their adaptability to various materials, Air-gens are expected to have a lower environmental impact compared to renewable energy sources.

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