Microbes Can Produce Electricity Out of Thin Air

Several years ago, scientists discovered a “sediment organism” that was capable of doing things that no one thought bacteria could do. This microbe belongs to the Geobacter genus and is known as “Geobacter sulfurreducens.”

It is capable of producing magnetite even in an environment without oxygen. The team found out that it can generate bacterial nanowires capable of conducting electricity after testing it for a while.

The study was first published in Nature, in 1987.  Derek Lovley, a microbiologist, was the lead author behind the paper. In summary, the microbe “generates electricity out of thin air,” which could open the door to possible new sustainable mechanisms that don’t need much output or charge to work for prolonged periods – or even more, forever.

Still, scientists from the University of Massachusetts are now developing a device that “harvests” this electricity. The study was again published via Nature.

The team has decided to call the device “Air-Gen.” It utilizes a thin film of the previously-mentioned Geobacter nanowires, which barely measure 10 microns thick. These microbes rest on an electrode, and another electrode is placed at the top of the film, which then “adsorbs” water vapor.

The process ends up producing a charge that passes between both electrodes and the gaps between the nanowires, creating electricity in the process.

At the moment, the Air-Gen device is capable of generating “a sustained voltage of around 0.5 volts across a 7-micrometer-thick film, with a current density of around 17 microamperes per square centimeter.”

It is enough electricity to make small electronic devices work. When several Air-gen devices are used simultaneously, they’re capable of generating higher voltages.

This device is a promising invention that provides an immense advance to the field of moisture-based energy-harvesting devices.

There are plans to expand this project and make it replace the batteries of everyday items, such as smartwatches and other small accessories (especially those dedicated to health and fitness).

The intention is to create devices capable of producing self-renewing energy and remaining alive pretty much all the time. The team also expects to bring the technology to mobile phones, which means that, in the future, users may not have to recharge their phones anymore.

Inventions like these are quite promising and may be helpful for us in the future. Perhaps we’re heading towards a more sustainable way of living.

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