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No, really, it is:

Harvesting electricity from the air
Dr Yao said: “What we realised after making the Geobacter discovery is the ability to generate electricity from the air – what we then called the ‘Air-gen effect’ – turns out to be generic.

“Literally any kind of material can harvest electricity from air – as long as it has a certain property.

“It just needs to have holes smaller than 100 nm (nanometers) – or less than a thousandth of the width of a human hair.”

This is because of a parameter known as the “mean free path” – the distance a single molecule of water travels in air before it bumps into another.

The researchers found they could design an electricity harvester based around this number made from a thin layer of material filled with nanopores smaller than 100nm.

New possibilities
They would let water molecules pass from the upper to the lower part of the material.

Each pore is so small they would easily bump into the edge as they pass through – meaning the upper part would be bombarded with many more charge-carrying water molecules than the lower.

It creates a charge imbalance, like those found in a cloud, as the upper part increased its charge relative to the lower part, creating a battery.


And now the question not answered here. How much? Sure, a cloud can produce lightning and that’s a lot. But clouds are also pretty big. So, how much usable power can we get here? Inswhatever it is we use to measure power, watts, amps, grannies or stones?

14 thoughts on “Fascinating”

  1. One does wonder, as others have already said, how efficiently this device will work once it gets dirty.

    Still, I wish them luck. I simply don’t think we should shut down our coal burners just yet.

  2. The breakthrough observation came as they monitored voltage activity at a sub 1 volt level.

    Phrasing it as “monitored” suggests that the power output is miniscule. Suitable units to quantify it are most likely measured in households per Wales. i.e. the number of households it could power if one of these devices was built with the area of Wales.

  3. Concentration of energy is the point, THE point, not the amount. Reliable, concentrated power is what is required, as that is what we currently have and any genuine alternative has to provide this WITHOUT all sorts of fantasy, Heath Robinson money sucking grifts.

    Fascinating this certainly is, and I wish this team well in getting some exploratory funding but let’s have a bit of perspective.

  4. I saw a comment that suggested (guessed?) that a fridge-sized device would produce 1kW. That’s a lot of stacked membranes. I guess the power density is a bit wanting! That’s not to say that the tech couldn’t be usable for sensors and other tech that consumes microamps in the 1 volt region.

  5. You can get power out of the air simply by using a sharp wire as there’s always a vertical electrostatic potential in the atmosphere, usually around 1kV/m. You won’t get much power because the current will be nanoamps, maybe microamps if you’re lucky. Unless you get a direct lightning strike, in which case you’ll get more amps than you care for.

  6. Coal seams contain gold particles. Slag heaps built up over a century contain substantial quantities of gold. Therefore process the slag heaps, extract the gold and be rich.

    So enough fools funded such a process. Do I need to finish?

  7. Yeah John B. During the 1920s, the German Nobel laureate, Fritz Haber, led a major project to secretly recover gold from seawater to pay off Germany’s war reparations.

    So even a real scientist like Fritz couldn’t make it work.

  8. Mmmm… Would seem to me, if you pass a volume of air through these membranes & extract it’s electrical potential, you must be creating a volume of air without the electrical potential. And therefore the rest of the air will seek to discharge it’s potential into the volume to achieve parity. Now it could just diffuse harmlessly. But lightening results from different volumes of air having different electrical potentials. The difference accumulates until it reaches the conductivity threshold & then cascades. Yes I can imagine this could produce some…interesting…effects.

  9. Or BiS, it could affect the climate. So something invented to save the world from climate change could actually change the climate. This is actually normal for Greenie solutions.

  10. @SBML
    I pointed out something similar on a climate preoccupied forum some years back. The thesis being that windfarm inefficiencies have to be expressed as heat. Since the energy must go somewhere. So by building large offshore windfarms they’re creating a large heat source wasn’t there before. Thus air would be rising by convection, disturbing wind patterns. It was of course poo-pooed by the forum’s “experts”. Except some research scientists had published a paper that very week on the exact subject. Quantifying the energy release & the possible effects.
    With this thing, it could, the same way, be a matter of scale. No problems at small scales. But surface area rises as the square whilst volume as the cube. With the sort of volumes of air you’d need to be processing to extract significant amounts of electricity energy there’s going to be a large potential difference created against a relatively smaller surface area of interface to disperse it. That’s classic lightning strike territory.

  11. @boganboy
    I’m surprised the “scientists”hadn’t worked this out for themselves.* The phenomenon they’re using is the same as creates lightning in clouds. And the process results in lightning strikes – charge disparity & equalisation cascades is well understood.

    *My personal theory is a lot of “science” is like this. It’s a scam to get funding for “scientists”. Take the ongoing search for extra-solar planets that keeps a lot of the astronomy community comfortably employed. Why? Yeah, establishing extra-solar planets exist was worthwhile science. But the state-of-the-art restricts discoverable planets to those in tight, fast orbits close to particular sorts of stars. The chances of detecting an earth-like planet orbiting at 1 AU from a Sun type star are remote. Even a visible repeated transit would require the orbital plane to be exactly lined up with the line-of-sight. What they’re coming up with is super-earths with orbital periods in days & iron vapour atmospheres. How many billions do you want to spend for that knowledge? Why not just wait until you can get a telescope array on orbit or on the far-side of the moon can resolve images at that distance? Because it’s not dosh for the science community now.

  12. Here you are. Boondoggle of the day:

    The Met Office ‘extreme team’ preparing for the UK’s drastically changing weather
    Under pressure to predict the future and prepare us for it, the UK’s top meteorologists have formed a crack squad to save us from ourselves

    Except there’s no indication whatsoever that there’s any more “extreme” weather now than there’s ever been & little reason to believe there will be in the future. But there’s 4 cunts pictured will be laughing all the way to the bank.

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