Science

Novel device can generate electricity from air using bacterial protein: Study

PTI Boston | Updated on February 18, 2020 Published on February 18, 2020

Researchers have developed a new device that uses a natural bacteria-derived protein to create electricity from moisture in the air, an advance that may help produce renewable energy that can work indoors unlike solar and wind-based generators.

The device, described in the journal Nature, is called “Air-gen”, or air-powered generator, and is made using ultrasmall electrically conductive protein wires produced by the microbe Geobacter which was discovered in the mud of the Potomac River in the US more than 30 years ago.

According to the researchers from the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst in the US, Air-gen connects electrodes to the tiny protein wires in such a way that it generates electrical current from water vapour naturally present in the atmosphere. “We are literally making electricity out of thin air. The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7,” said Jun Yao, study co-author from UMass Amherst.

The device, the scientists said, is non-polluting, renewable and low-cost. They added that it can generate power even in areas with extremely low humidity such as the Sahara Desert.

According to Derek Lovely, another co-author of the study from UMass Amherst, the device has significant advantages over other forms of renewable energy including solar and wind since “it even works indoors.”

Air-gen requires only a thin film of tiny protein wires which are less than 10 micrometres thick and absorb water vapour from the atmosphere, the scientists said. The bottom of the film, they added, rests on an electrode, while a smaller electrode that covers only part of the protein wire film sits on top.

With peculiar surface chemistry features, and the ability to conduct electricity, these tiny protein wires and the fine pores between them, establish conditions favourable for generating an electrical current between the two electrodes, the study noted. The scientists hope to scale up the technology to power small electronics.

“The ultimate goal is to make large-scale systems. 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,” Yao said.

“Once we get to an industrial scale for wire production, I fully expect that we can make large systems that will make a major contribution to sustainable energy production,” he added.

The scientists recently engineered a new microbial strain to more rapidly and inexpensively mass produce the protein wires.

“We turned E. coli into a protein nanowire factory. With this new scalable process, protein nanowire supply will no longer be a bottleneck to developing these applications,” Lovely said.

Published on February 18, 2020

A letter from the Editor


Dear Readers,

The coronavirus crisis has changed the world completely in the last few months. All of us have been locked into our homes, economic activity has come to a near standstill. Everyone has been impacted.

Including your favourite business and financial newspaper. Our printing and distribution chains have been severely disrupted across the country, leaving readers without access to newspapers. Newspaper delivery agents have also been unable to service their customers because of multiple restrictions.

In these difficult times, we, at BusinessLine have been working continuously every day so that you are informed about all the developments – whether on the pandemic, on policy responses, or the impact on the world of business and finance. Our team has been working round the clock to keep track of developments so that you – the reader – gets accurate information and actionable insights so that you can protect your jobs, businesses, finances and investments.

We are trying our best to ensure the newspaper reaches your hands every day. We have also ensured that even if your paper is not delivered, you can access BusinessLine in the e-paper format – just as it appears in print. Our website and apps too, are updated every minute, so that you can access the information you want anywhere, anytime.

But all this comes at a heavy cost. As you are aware, the lockdowns have wiped out almost all our entire revenue stream. Sustaining our quality journalism has become extremely challenging. That we have managed so far is thanks to your support. I thank all our subscribers – print and digital – for your support.

I appeal to all or readers to help us navigate these challenging times and help sustain one of the truly independent and credible voices in the world of Indian journalism. Doing so is easy. You can help us enormously simply by subscribing to our digital or e-paper editions. We offer several affordable subscription plans for our website, which includes Portfolio, our investment advisory section that offers rich investment advice from our highly qualified, in-house Research Bureau, the only such team in the Indian newspaper industry.

A little help from you can make a huge difference to the cause of quality journalism!

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
You have read 1 out of 3 free articles for this week. For full access, please subscribe and get unlimited access to all sections.