Air-powered generator from UMass Amherst generates energy from naturally occurring water vapor using protein nanowires.


  • Reduced pollution
  • Reduced costs
  • Scalable


  • Medical devices
  • Small electronics
  • Commercial and residential energy generation

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 7: Affordable & Clean Energy

  • Goal 13: Climate Action


  • Geobacter

The Challenge

Methods of renewable energy generation often rely on certain climate or weather patterns to generate energy, such as solar or wind energy. Renewable energy technology can also be hard to build in remote places due to the large costs and multiple components required for construction.

Innovation Details

The air-powered generator, known as “Air-gen”, contains electrically-conductive nanowires produced by the microbe Geobacter sulfurreducens. The bottom of the film rests on an electrode, with a smaller electrode covering part of the nanowire film on top. The film adsorbs water from the atmosphere and a combination of electric conductivity and surface chemistry generates a flow of electricity between the two electrodes. Air-gen does not require sunlight or wind, and even works indoors.

Biological Model

To get energy to live and grow, some bacteria such as Geobacter sulfurreducens build electrical “wires” 100,000 times thinner than a human hair. They extend these nanowires outside their cell walls and create a microscopic electrical grid in the surrounding environment. The nanowires allow the bacteria to “breathe,” using metals instead of oxygen.