(NewsReady.com) – Engineers at a Massachusetts university claim they’ve discovered a way to generate power from humidity in the air. If they’re right and can turn it into a system that works in the real world, it promises unlimited cheap electricity. It would also be more dependable than wind or solar.
In late May, a team from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst announced it had found a way to turn air humidity into electricity. Engineering professor Jun Yao said humidity is “a very easily accessible, enormous source” of clean power that can be used wherever you are. The key to using it is having a material perforated with tiny microscopic pores, less than a thousandth the diameter of a human hair. Moist air passing through those pores generates an electric charge difference between the ends of the pores, which can be turned into a current and used to power devices.
So far, the team has developed a prototype that’s about the size of a fingernail and extremely thin — but it doesn’t produce much power. In fact, it only generates enough electricity to power one pixel on a screen. Yao says it would take a billion of them, packed into a unit the size of a refrigerator, to partly power a home. Now, they aim to make the device smaller and more efficient.
One piece of good news is that these devices don’t need exotic, costly materials; in fact, they can be made of almost anything, as long as it can be turned into thin wafers with tiny pores. Another is that while the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, there’s always some humidity in the air. Lower humidity means generating less power, but unlike solar or wind power, this method will always produce at least some electricity. Yao has ambitious plans — for example, he says the technology could be embedded in paint, so generate power from the walls in your home. If scientists can make that happen, energy crises could be a thing of the past.
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