MIT researchers create device they claim can “generate electricity from air”

To date, humanity has been able to discover and eventually tap on a number of renewable energy sources. From wind mills to solar panels, there have been all sorts of inventions and gadgets that come with the ability to generate electricity from certain natural sources. Now a team of engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed a new device that appears to generate electricity out of nothing but air.

This device, which has been described as miraculous in some online reports, is referred to by the engineers who invented it as a thermal resonator. It is said to function by relying on fluctuations in temperature in the environment. This means that changes in temperature between night and day is what allows it to produce electricity seemingly on its own.

The inventors said their device can be used without the need for any batteries, sunlight, wind, or other energy sources. This makes it ideal for use in situations where tapping the above sources simply isn’t possible. Its ability to generate electricity in this regard means it could be suitable as a source of power for certain types of sensors and communications devices that can run for years without the need for batteries.

According to Michael Strano, the lead engineer who worked on the project, they came up with the concept and completed its execution all on their own. “We basically invented this concept out of whole cloth. We’ve built the first thermal resonator,” he explained. “It’s something that can sit on a desk and generate energy out of what seems like nothing.”

As for how exactly they came upon their ideas, Strano said that they noticed that they simply applied the known science on what is apparently an obvious free and natural power source. “We are surrounded by temperature fluctuations of all different frequencies all of the time,” he said. “These are an untapped source of energy.”

The thermal resonator was made out of materials that are conducive to its main method of energy production. That is, it uses materials that can capture heat from the surrounding air and also release it afterwards. The researchers opted to use metal foam, which is made out of copper or nickel material, and later coated with a layer of graphene.

The metal foam was then infused with a special kind of wax called octadecane. It is said that this material has the ability to change between solid and liquid phases based on the temperature. So far, the engineers have been able to create a proof of concept version of the material that has shown great promise.

The initial effort by the team resulted in a material that can produce 350 millivolts of potential energy, as well as 1.3 milliwatts of power following a 10-degree Celsius change in temperature between day and night. This kind of energy output is said to be just perfect for small environmental sensors and certain communications systems, said the engineers.

Since the power output is far too low for everyday devices, the final working version of the thermal resonator created by the engineers would probably be more suited to special use cases such as in space rovers that are deployed in remote locations like moons and other planets. For those kinds of applications, it could be designed to function as a long-lasting low-power energy source that is made out of local materials instead of being built with pre-made components.

The thermal resonator does seem to have a lot of potential for space exploration and other exploratory endeavors. However, the engineers will need to create functional prototype versions that work in space first before that statement can be said with full certainty.

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