Summary:Electrical engineers and microbiologists have created a device they call an'Air-gen.'or air-powered generator,with electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by the microbe Geobacter.The Air-gen connects electrodes to the protein nanowires in such a way that electrical current is generated from the water vapor naturally present in the atmosphere.
Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a device that uses a natural protein to create electricity from moisture in the air,a new technology they say could have significant implications for the future of renewable energy,climate change and in the future of medicine.
As reported today in Nature,the laboratories of electrical engineer Jun Yao and microbiologist Derek Lovley at UMass Amherst have created a device they call an"Air-gen."or air-powered generator,with electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by the microbe Geobacter.The Air-gen connects electrodes to the protein nanowires in such a way that electrical current is generated from the water vapor naturally present in the atmosphere.
"We are literally making electricity out of thin air,"says Yao."The Air-gen generates clean energy 24/7."Lovely,who has advanced sustainable biology-based electronic materials over three decades,adds,"It's the most amazing and exciting application of protein nanowires yet."
The new technology developed in Yao's lab is non-polluting,renewable and low-cost.It can generate power even in areas with extremely low humidity such as the Sahara Desert.It has significant advantages over other forms of renewable energy including solar and wind,Lovley says,because unlike these other renewable energy sources,the Air-gen does not require sunlight or wind,and"it even works indoors."
姚实验室开发的新技术是无污染、可再生、低成本的。即使在湿度极低的地区，如撒哈拉沙漠，它也能发电。洛夫利说，与太阳能和风能等其他形式的可再生能源相比，Air-gen 具有显著的优势，因为与这些其他可再生能源不同，Air-gen 不需要阳光或风能，而且"它甚至可以在室内工作"
The Air-gen device requires only a thin film of protein nanowires less than 10 microns thick,the researchers explain.The bottom of the film rests on an electrode,while a smaller electrode that covers only part of the nanowire film sits on top.The film adsorbs water vapor from the atmosphere.A combination of the electrical conductivity and surface chemistry of the protein nanowires,coupled with the fine pores between the nanowires within the film,establishes the conditions that generate an electrical current between the two electrodes.
The researchers say that the current generation of Air-gen devices are able to power small electronics,and they expect to bring the invention to commercial scale soon.Next steps they plan include developing a small Air-gen"patch"that can power electronic wearables such as health and fitness monitors and smart watches,which would eliminate the requirement for traditional batteries.They also hope to develop Air-gens to apply to cell phones to eliminate periodic charging.
研究人员表示，目前这一代的 Air-gen 设备能够为小型电子设备提供动力，他们希望这项发明很快能够投入商业规模。他们计划采取的下一步措施包括，开发一种小型 Air-gen"补丁"，为健康和健身监视器以及智能手表等电子可穿戴设备提供电力，这将消除对传统电池的需求。他们还希望开发 Air-gens 应用于手机，以消除定期充电。
Yao says,"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.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."
Continuing to advance the practical biological capabilities of Geobacter,Lovley's lab recently developed a new microbial strain to more rapidly and inexpensively mass produce protein nanowires."We turned E.coli into a protein nanowire factory,"he says."With this new scalable process,protein nanowire supply will no longer be a bottleneck to developing these applications."
为了继续提高 Geobacter 的实际生物能力，Lovley 的实验室最近开发了一种新的微生物菌株，可以更快速、更廉价地批量生产蛋白质纳米线。"我们把大肠杆菌变成了蛋白质纳米线工厂，"他说。"有了这种可扩展的新工艺，蛋白质纳米线的供应将不再是开发这些应用的瓶颈。"
The Air-gen discovery reflects an unusual interdisciplinary collaboration,they say.Lovley discovered the Geobacter microbe in the mud of the Potomac River more than 30 years ago.His lab later discovered its ability to produce electrically conductive protein nanowires.Before coming to UMass Amherst,Yao had worked for years at Harvard University,where he engineered electronic devices with silicon nanowires.They joined forces to see if useful electronic devices could be made with the protein nanowires harvested from Geobacter.
他们说，Air-gen 的发现反映了一种不同寻常的跨学科合作。30多年前，洛夫利在 Potomac River 的泥土中发现了地杆菌。他的实验室后来发现了它制造导电蛋白质纳米线的能力。在来到马萨诸塞州大学阿默斯特分校之前，姚曾在哈佛大学工作多年，在那里他用硅纳米线设计电子设备。他们联手研究是否可以利用从 Geobacter 采集的蛋白质纳米线来制造有用的电子设备。
Xiaomeng Liu,a Ph.D.student in Yao's lab,was developing sensor devices when he noticed something unexpected.He recalls,"I saw that when the nanowires were contacted with electrodes in a specific way the devices generated a current.I found that that exposure to atmospheric humidity was essential and that protein nanowires adsorbed water,producing a voltage gradient across the device."
In addition to the Air-gen,Yao's laboratory has developed several other applications with the protein nanowires."This is just the beginning of new era of protein-based electronic devices"said Yao.
除了 Air-gen 之外，姚的实验室还开发了其他几种蛋白质纳米线的应用。"这只是基于蛋白质的电子设备新时代的开始。"。
The research was supported in part from a seed fund through the Office of Technology Commercialization and Ventures at UMass Amherst and research development funds from the campus's College of Natural Sciences.