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Engineers harvest energy from moist air

Words by Tess Becker

Smiley News recently covered the Caltech effort to bring more clean energy to our lives through a beam technology that could transport solar power from space stations to the Earth’s surface. Now engineers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have found another incredible source of clean energy. 

The engineers ran an experiment that showed nearly any material can be turned into a device that continuously harvests electricity from humidity in the air. The secret lies in being able to pepper the material with nanopores less than 100 nanometers in diameter.

“We are opening up a wide door for harvesting clean electricity from thin air,” says Xiaomeng Liu, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering at UMass Amherst’s College of Engineering and the paper’s lead author.

It works by harnessing the natural electricity in the air.

“The air contains an enormous amount of electricity,” says the paper's senior author, Jun Yao, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering at UMass Amherst.

“Think of a cloud, which is nothing more than a mass of water droplets," he explained, "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 technology is still in the early stages but there’s hope that it can expand into a nearly infinite clean energy alternative. 

“Imagine a future world in which clean electricity is available anywhere you go,” Yao said.

Charity check-in

At Smiley Movement, we like to elevate the work of charities across the world. Here are three charities whose causes align with the themes in this article.

The Women Invested to Save Earth Fund. This organization helps support underrepresented and underfunded Black, indigenous, and women of color-led organizations across the world. Find out more and support them here

Collective Sun. They help nonprofits get outfitted with solar power capabilities. Check them out here.

Black Male Voter Project. They help Black men get involved in the political process around the United States. Find out more

This article aligns with the UN SDG Climate Action.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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