According to a new study published in the journal Nature, a thin film device made of nanometric scale protein strands prepared from microorganisms can generate constant electrical energy in the natural environment.
Graphic image of a thin film of a protein nanowire that generates electricity from atmospheric moisture. Image by Yao and Lovely Laboratories, University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“This protein is the most surprising and exciting application of nanowires,” said Professor Derek Loveley, a microbiologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Air gene devices can also generate electricity in areas of extremely low humidity, such as the Sahara desert.
“This is a significant advantage over other forms of renewable energy, including solar and wind, because unlike these other renewable energy sources, the Air-Gene does not require solar or wind light, and also works indoors,” he said. Professor Loveley.
The device only requires a thin film of protein nanowires of less than 10 μm.
The lower part of the film rests on an electrode, while a small electrode that covers only a part of the nanowire film is located at the top. The film announces the water vapor of the atmosphere.
A combination of the electrical conductivity and surface chemistry of protein nanowires together with fine pores between nanowires within the film establishes the conditions that generate the electric current between the two electrodes.
The current generation of air gene devices produces a constant voltage of approximately 0.5 V in a 7 μm thick film, whose current density is approximately 17 / A / cm2.
“I realized that when nanowires approached with electrodes in a specific way, the devices generated a current,” said Xiaomeng Liu, Ph.D. Student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The scientists plan in the next phase is to develop a small ‘patch’ of air genes that can power electronic devices such as health and fitness monitors and smart watches, which will eliminate the need for conventional batteries.
Once we reach an industrial scale for wire production, I sincerely hope that we can build larger systems that contribute significantly to sustainable production.