Geek Tech online (“Everything about technology and gadgets”) has included a new device developed in the laboratories of Jun Yao of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and Derek Lovley of the Microbiology Department on its listing of “most interesting scientific discoveries of the year.” The two researchers 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 medicine.
As reported in Nature, Yao and Lovley have created a device they call an "Air Generator," or “Air-Gen,” with electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by the microbe Geobacter, discovered by Lovley some years ago. 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. The device is also non-polluting, renewable, and can be produced inexpensively.
“We are literally making electricity out of thin air,” says Yao, who is also an adjunct faculty member in the Biomedical Engineering Department. “The Air-Gen generates clean energy 24/7.”
Geek Tech’s tribute only adds to the growing list of Yao’s accomplishments. Despite the pandemic, the year 2020 proved to be an amazingly productive year for Yao. During 2020, his groundbreaking work on new biomaterials harvested from the humble microbe Geobacter has inspired articles in such renowned scientific journals as Nature, Nature Communications, NanoResearch, and Advanced Electronic Materials.
Subsequently, those journal papers also stoked international media coverage in more than 50 outlets, including Science, The Science Times, The Engineer, Popular Science, Cosmos, Environmental Journal, The Weather Channel, and Phys.org.
As Yao explains, “All these articles are based on the same amazing biomaterial, feeding into the vision of developing future 'green' electronics based on biomaterials.”
Working with these pioneering green biomaterials, Yao, Lovley, and their research associates are creating trailblazing devices to tackle some of the world’s most vital problems, such as producing clean energy for self-sustaining systems, generating inexpensive electricity in economically strapped countries, helping to transform neuromorphic computing, developing bioelectric ammonia gas sensors, and much, much more. (January 2021)