Scientists have dreamed of generating power from thin air for more than a century. Nikola Tesla was already experimenting along these lines in the 1930s. Recently, however, calls for the concept of pure energy have grown louder. Transitioning away from fossil fuels in time to avoid the worst of the climate crisis would be the single largest collaborative project the world has ever attempted, and necessity has led scientists to dream big. Some of the resulting voices of brainstorming and experimentation were plucked from the pages of a dim sci-fi novel, or like wishful thinking rather than methodology. But scientists are getting closer and closer to making the impossible possible: harvesting energy from the air.
In 2021, researchers from the American University of Massachusetts in Amherst announced that they had invented A device called Air-gen, short for air powered generator. The device is able to use a natural protein to convert moisture in the surrounding air to generate electricity. This is done through a film made of protein nanowires sourced from the bacterium Geobacter sulfurreducens. The team of researchers claimed that this technology “could have interesting implications for the future of renewable energy, climate change, and the future of medicine.” The film, which is a few microns thick, has proven effective. “We literally make electricity out of thin air. Air-gen generates clean power 24/7. It’s the most exciting and exciting application of protein nanowires to date,” explained researcher and research author Jun Yao.
A year later, in 2022, the European Union begins financing a new project – called catcher — which similarly aims to generate power from atmospheric moisture, but in this case through the use of cells made of zirconium oxide, a ceramic material used in all kinds of applications from dental implants to nuclear fuel rods. “In exploring the properties of zirconium oxide nanomaterials seven years ago, researchers began to see evidence of hydropower,” the European Commission’s Horizon magazine. mentioned in December. They have come a long way in the past seven years, but the technology is still a long way from scalability and practicality. Presently, “an 8 by 5 cm sheet of its material can generate about 0.9 volts in the laboratory with a humidity of about 50%”, or roughly half the output of an AA battery.
Now, just this year, scientists at Monash University in Australia have made another energy breakthrough. This time, the main article is An enzyme named Huc. The enzyme is found in Mycobacterium smegmatis, a cousin of the bacteria responsible for tuberculosis and leprosy. Huc is truly a powerhouse for converting air into energy, which bacteria use to generate energy in extreme environments with few other energy sources.
Once extracted, the researchers say the enzyme can be used to power “an array of small, portable electrical devices.” […] Including biosensors, environmental monitors, digital clocks, calculators or simple computers. “So far, the various applications of Huc are found more in a thought experiment than a tested hypothesis, but the scientists responsible believe that Huc has the potential for greatness. When you feed Huc with more concentrated hydrogen, it produces more electric current,” said lead author Reese Grainter. “Which means you can use it in fuel cells to power more complex devices, such as smart watches, or smartphones, more complex laptops, and maybe even a car.”
Projects aimed at generating power from the air are clearly still in their infancy, but it would be hard to exaggerate the potential ramifications if one of these technologies were to become scalable. Generating power from thin air would solve countless issues related to climate change and other negative environmental externalities associated with energy production. Moreover, technology like the bacterial enzyme could theoretically be accessed anywhere in the world, making the geopolitics of energy production more fair and decentralized. In short, it could upend the global economy as we know it. Someday.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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