Air humidity is a vast, sustainable reservoir of energy that, unlike solar and wind, is continuously available. However, the previously described technologies for harvesting energy from moist air are either not continuous or require unique material synthesis or processing that has hindered scalability and broad deployment.
Recently, engineers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have shown that nearly any material can be turned into a device that continuously harvests electricity from humidity in the air.
“The air contains an enormous amount of electricity,” says Jun Yao, the paper’s senior author. “Think of a cloud, which is nothing more than a mass of water droplets. Each of those droplets contains a charge, and when conditions are right, the cloud can produce a lightning bolt – but we don’t know how to reliably capture electricity from lightning. What we’ve done is to create a human-built, small-scale cloud that produces electricity for us predictably and continuously so that we can harvest it.”
The heart of the man-made cloud depends on what Yao and his colleagues call the “generic Air-gen effect,” and it builds upon their previous research.