New Material Uses Water Vapor As A Power Source

By Nick Venable | Published

This article is more than 2 years old

When you live in a state with a lot of wetlands, you tend to dread the summer, as well as most days in the spring and autumn, due to the depressingly high levels of humidity present at all times. It’d be close to impossible to find a way to get me to actually appreciate this miserably clammy feeling. Such as, say, using the heavy amounts of water vapor in the air as a power source.

Steam, punk.
Steam, punk.

Engineers from MIT, working from the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, combined the polymers polypyrrole and polyol-borate to create a film material that generates electricity from water vapor. It looks like a thick piece of electrical tape, and it curls up and dances around seemingly at random, forced into constant movement by the materials it’s comprised of.

The hard yet flexible polymer polypyrrole forms the structural support, while the polyol-borate is a soft gel that swells up as it absorbs water, and the two form an interlocking network that forms a much stronger material than the polymers are separately. When the bottom gel comes into contact with any amount of water, the absorption makes it curl up, which allows air back into the gel, forcing it back down again, and the process begins anew. What’s more, they found it was strong enough to lift 10 times its own weight. So it’s like a drunk ant doing somersaults. Not really.

When combined with a piezoelectric material, the film’s movements are converted into electrical charges, and though its 5.6 nanowatts of power can probably only be used in small sensors and nanoelectronics now, the future will see advancements as the researchers attempt to use the technology on a larger scale, noting the material would work very well in replacing current actuators and generators that are affected by environmental changes. It will become the robot muscles of the future.

If this material should ever serve as a solid alternative for batteries or other forms of power, I guess we can expect to see commercials of a bunny wearing this black material as a dominatrix suit, and he keeps going and going…