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Reduce the humidity and make some electricity on the side

By Paul Grad |

Researchers at the Dept. of Materials Science and Engineering, National University of Singapore (www.nus.edu.sg), led by professor Swee Ching Tan, have combined a moisture-absorbent gel with light-active materials to develop a humidity “digester” that dries ambient air while generating energy. The researchers note that humans’ perception of temperature is highly influenced by relative humidity (RH). When the RH is low, our perception of the temperature is much lower than in the case of high RH.

The humidity digester is composed of a super-hygroscopic zinc and cobalt hydrogel (which absorbs water), a cathode, a photoanode and a solar cell. The researchers developed a ferroelectric-semiconductor photoanode (BaTiO3@BiVO4) that, acting as a photo-electrocatalyst, oxidizes the absorbed water in the presence of light to split water and produce energy. The hydrogel constantly replenishes the system with water pulled out of the air to sustain the energy-generation process.

Combining the photoanode-hydrogel device with a solar cell, the RH is reduced by 12%, while a photocurrent of about 0.4 mA/cm2 is simultaneously generated under an illumination of 10 mW/cm2. This current is relatively low, but compared with commercial air-conditioning units, the digester can improve thermal comfort with significantly less energy input. According to the researchers, even after scaling the device up to commercial standards, it will be easier to install, it is portable, and its operation will cost a fraction of the cost of operating an air conditioner.

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