Allow me to begin with an admission: I’m not a scientist and I don’t play one on TV.

That said, the various newsletters and publications I receive increasingly feature reports of scientific breakthroughs (one of which is described below), reminding me that a constant focus on humanity’s seeming inability to escape tribalism and social discord gives one a distorted picture of where we are as a species.

There is a substantial mis-match between humankind’s social/political progress and our very impressive advancements in science and technology.  I am definitely not advocating that we sit back and ignore climate on the theory that science will save the day. We still need policies to address the reality of a warming planet. But in addition to other measures aimed at reducing harmful emissions, those public policies need to incorporate and encourage insights produced by the scientific community.

Some of the emerging technologies that promise to have a significant effect on climate change:

  • Carbon capture and storage that captures carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants and industrial facilities, preventing them from entering the atmosphere. Evidently, the captured emissions can then be stored underground or used in various industries.
  •  Breakthroughs in renewable energy promise significant reductions in  the cost of energy. The last few years have seen increases in solar and wind power generation, advancements in batteries that store energy, and improvements in  the efficiency of renewable energy systems.
  • Consumers have warmed to electric vehicles, and we are on the cusp of widespread adoption of electric automobiles as driving range has increased and charging infrastructure improves.
  • Green hydrogen is hydrogen produced through renewable energy sources (such as electrolysis of water using electricity from wind or solar power.) Carbon-free hydrogen (with which I was–and am– unfamiliar) has a wide variety of applications.
  • The movement toward sustainable agriculture doesn’t just reflect health concerns;  innovative agricultural practices reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration.

There’s much more. I lack the background to fully understand these advances, but from what I read, it appears that advanced materials being developed for use in construction and manufacturing can also significantly reduce emissions and our carbon footprint.

And that brings me to the “wow” of today’s title. The Washington Post recently reported that scientists have found a way to create energy out of virtually any material.

Nearly any material can be used to turn the energy in air humidity into electricity, scientists found in a discovery that could lead to continuously producing clean energy with little pollution.

The research, published in a paper in Advanced Materials, builds on 2020 work that first showed energy could be pulled from the moisture in the air using material harvested from bacteria. The new study shows nearly any material, such as wood or silicon, can be used, as long as it can be smashed into small particles and remade with microscopic pores…

“What we have invented, you can imagine it’s like a small-scale, man-made cloud,” said Jun Yao, a professor of engineering at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the senior author of the study. “This is really a very easily accessible, enormous source of continuous clean electricity. Imagine having clean electricity available wherever you go.”

It’s worth emphasizing–as the article does–that this discovery is just the beginning. It will take much more work and experimentation to bring the energy generation to scale and make the invention commercially usable.

The scientists first must work out which material would be most efficient to use in different climates. Eventually, Yao said he hopes to develop a strategy to make the device bigger without blocking the humidity that can be captured. He also wants to figure out how to stack the devices on top of each other effectively and how to engineer the Air-gen so the same size device captures more energy.
It’s not clear how long that will take.

“Once we optimize this, you can put it anywhere,” Yao said.
It could be embedded in wall paint in a home, made at a larger scale in unused space in a city or littered throughout an office’s hard-to-get-to spaces. And because it can use nearly any material, it could extract less from the environment than other renewable forms of energy.

“The entire earth is covered with a thick layer of humidity,” Yao said. “It’s an enormous source of clean energy. This is just the beginning in making use of that.”

Good news, but it’s all about timing. Once again, humankind finds itself needing to avoid calamity in the interim between now and a promising future. At a bare minimum, avoiding the unthinkable will require a Congress composed of rational adults, and that will require the defeat of the GOP’s current clown show.

Fingers crossed.


  1. Your report of scientific breakthroughs is good news. Adding to it is a report this morning of the development in progress of a new blood test that can detect numerous kinds of cancer very early in the course of those diseases.
    I will add that I personally see an uptick in a reclaiming of survival skills such as home gardening, small livestock husbandry and the like. In my little neighborhood there has also been a “coming together” for the common good, a reestablishment of neighborhood in the real sense of that word… people looking out for each other and sharing. It started before the pandemic, but has taken root since then.
    On the opposite end of these news reports is a report this morning in the NYT about the declining state of the oceans. Talk about doom and gloom!

  2. “Nearly any material can be used to turn the energy in air humidity into electricity, scientists found in a discovery that could lead to continuously producing clean energy with little pollution.”

    This movement to produce and use electricity for everything has me questioning the fuel source to provide all of this electricity. Especially when it comes to cars and the transfer or addition of power stations when we can drive very few blocks without seeing at least one, if not more, gas stations at intersections. Pay attention to the cell phones everywhere used for everything which rely on electricity. We will never see an end to the need and use of fossil fuel; we need deep cutbacks and ending corporate, untaxed control by such as Manchin within government to slow or stop progress toward alternatives rather than end. We are seeking alternatives to cut pollution as we are destroying our green spaces which are natural air purifiers. “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot!”

    “The movement toward sustainable agriculture doesn’t just reflect health concerns; innovative agricultural practices reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration.”

    We are seeing more and more plant-based food products, such as oat milk, et al, in our stores. I questioned the labels on processed meats stating “uncured” so I researched the term. They are cured…using natural products primarily from plant life, “cured” meats use chemicals. Sustaining “innovative agricultural practices reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration” is vital but…someone needs to find a way to return good taste to all produce foisted on us in our supermarkets. Those vast empty farm acres which once provided healthy, tasty foods as they helped clean the air need to be put back into use. If plant life is going to be a major source of cleaning the environment, we need to see more evidence of plant life on those acres before we begin seeing more gas stations or electrical power pumps for cars.

  3. Thanks for a column of good news, and hopeful. Agree wholeheartedly that the defeat of the science-and-climate deniers must come first.

  4. The scientists are on the public dime (most likely), so why not keep the energy produced in the public sphere? Make the good news even better news. Foster a whole industry that not only dwindles fossil fuel but also provides jobs and dividends to society – not a private corporation for pillaging?

    Go RFK, Jr.!!!


  5. Great offering this morning. Yes the creatives continue to come up with innovative sustainable new technology. At the same time humans seems to be backflowing in their interpersonal realms.

    Personally I just hope human being are still around to make use and enjoy the fruits of these creative endeavors. Only time will tell.

    Like others,

  6. Will the fossil fuel magnates use their ownership of Congress and state legislatures to ensure research funding is unavailable for this new energy source? I imagine they’ve already been working behind the scenes to slam the brakes on further progress.

  7. All of that is good news. However, be aware of something similar to “greenwashing”.
    Every so often for the past 50 years that I’ve been following it, media reports that we are a step closer to:

    -cheap battery storage
    -Methane from animal waste
    -hydrogen / fuel cell
    -sustainable food production

    I still have my copy of “Mother Earth News – Handbook of Homemade Power” from 1974 -someplace.

    You start questioning if this isn’t a diversionary tactic so that we can keep doing things the way we have been doing them – with the idea that “Science” will save our butt at the last minute.

    Progress is being made, but don’t count on electricity that’s produced by nanoparticles responding to differences in humidity to get us out of this mess. Look at what’s viable now, and in five years.

  8. I think Sheila and James Todd have made the most intuitive comments so far today, as I expect Boebert, MTG and the crazy dentist from Arizona to oppose funding for research for our, uh, survival. I am also ready to hear from Trump ere the day is o’er on how he made the bombshell discovery Sheila discusses today while en route to Moscow to end the war in Ukraine.

    We must first survive such abject political ignorance and delusion before (along with our planet) surviving as an environmental matter, as suggested by James and Sheila. Add my name to their respective insights.

  9. In this morning’s Denver Post, an article described the deal established between Boeing and an alternative energy start-up in Los Angeles to in fact extract hydrogen from the ocean water while extracting the carbon dioxide as well. They didn’t mention the chemistry/physics of the process, but Boeing says it can use the sustainable fuels with only slight modifications to the jet engines.

    Okay, so jet exhaust pollution is only about 4% of the carbon emission problem, but it’s another step in the right direction. Now, if the rest of corporate America can convince their stockholders that saving the planet is a good thing, we might actually make progress toward our own salvation.

    I’m 81 and probably won’t live long enough to see the corner turned.

  10. Let’s see, guess there are no capitalists figuring out how to get the government to pay for the research and for them to reap huge profits for themselves? Did no one notice the immense money made from COVID by big pharma? Hook’em – rip them off. Common good doesn’t exist much…

  11. Personally, I heavily discount research by college professors heavy on claims. Not that I do not respect their work but so little of it passes the interesting stage of development.

    Scientists find reliable knowledge. Engineers turn it into goods and services with commercial value.

    It’s well known that the amount of energy in the universe is fixed. All that can ever be done is to change the form of it.

    Even stars don’t create it. Their enormous gravitational compaction of hydrogen is enough to change hydrogen into helium, each atom of which needs infinitesimally less energy to hold it together than the two hydrogen atoms that combine to form it.

    That energy travels through empty space and some of it reaches planets to continuously warm them which causes them to want to cool by sending the energy back out into space. We’ll have energy here until the sun’s hydrogen runs out in a few billion years.

    We too can change it to other forms like electricity which can be changed into motion, which heats roads and air until it fulfills its destiny and is radiated into space.

    There are no free lunches.

  12. There is a lot of good news on the horizon, but I knew Sheila’s positive column this morning would get a mixed reaction. Some on the left are more about using environmental issues to advocate turning back the clock. For those people, technological improvements that might help address those issues is actually bad news.

  13. Vernon and Lester, absolutely! How can capitalists monetize technology that would be fairly inexpensive and almost a no-brainer to operate. I’m sure the government would be glad to tax any units that would come online because that’s how they make their money. The perfect option would be, each building a residents or domicile would have its own unit preferably stationed outside where air conditioning would not pull too much humidity from the air.

    This precept or train of thought has been around for a while, something similar has been used to generate or collect water molecules in a desert climate. They look like funnels on a post, or a large funnel made from a sheer type of micro netting that pulls humidity out of the air no matter how dry and fills up cisterns at the bottom of the unit. And from what I’ve seen, they produce quite a bit of water.

    I also believe that this discovery is related to that particular science. Where static electricity would build up around these water collection units if they were not grounded properly.

    If science was not about making money, there would be a lot of solutions out there for humanity concerning water and power and food production. It would transform this planet. But, they’re always those individuals that are in control, Todd calls them oligarchs, but they are in positions of power, and they will definitely either monetize it or kill it! It doesn’t matter if it’s good for the population, humanity, or the environment. Greed rules. Even if it kills those who are greedy. Because that greed is so entrenched and powerful, they’ve convinced themselves that they have the secret to limitless wealth. And of course it’s at the expense of their fellow man.

    Maybe the population needs to decide what they will and won’t put up with. The population still has the power of the purse. Everybody revolts, it could make a lot of changes happen fairly quick.

    Unfortunately, unity is not humanity’s strong suit. And, that’s exactly what as Todd would say, the oligarchs bank on. Your government representatives are supposed to be doing this very thing, as far as representing their constituency. Except they have their hand out to these oligarchs, so there will be no fair representation.

  14. Pete, there is a lot to be learned and I’m not going to sit here and say it’s all great, but I spent a lot of my time in DC explaining that disproving an hypothesis is nearly as valuable as proving one. The scientists don’t work in a bubble. Every successful hypothesis generates more research by other scientists and every unsuccessful one tells the next where not to go. By the way, it’s not considered proven until it is independently replicated.

  15. Todd. Interesting that you promote RFK Jr. in response to a blog reminding us of the importance of science to our survival. I’ve heard he denies the efficacy of vaccines. Comments?

  16. Paul,

    “Some on the left are more about using environmental issues to advocate turning back the clock. For those people, technological improvements that might help address those issues is actually bad news.”

    Indeed, I’m sure that you could find a few. Someplace. Are they the ones steering policy or accomplishing much at all? No.

    It’s a common tactic to try to discredit an entire group by pointing out the most fringe elements of that group.

    Far more prevalent than “back to the earth” or “anti-progress” types on the left, are folks on the right who have actively sought to discredited global climate change, offered up disinformation and fought all progress on this issue. And many of those folks ARE very much in power and are steering policy.

    Seriously, what were you thinking?

  17. Pete,

    More than 50% of research innovations see the light of day for one primary reason: FUNDING! If the money people don’t see a short-term profit, the money isn’t given or loaned. It’s the bane of short-term capitalism to reduce progress with the misguided notion that short-term profits must be obtained to keep the stockholders happy.

    Fifty years ago, Japan went long-term with their automotive industry, investing ALL their profits into manufacturing technology and other things that made their vehicles cost-effective with the lowest mean-time-between-failures in the industry. How well did that long-term investment work out?

  18. Sounds great, at first blush, but then there are the all too human issues of
    greed, and craving for power.
    Timing: Does the human species have the time to get all this lined up and
    running effectively, before we snuff ourselves out…there being several ways we
    can achieve this brilliant result?
    Not happy, here, to be Debbie Downer, but I’m not optimistic; would love to be

  19. Pete, thanks for the comment about engineers. Of course, they are also scientists. We owe much to the science of engineering!

  20. I expect the EU may view this research as having potential. They have a framework in place to do the things the US is still resisting to reduce carbon emissions and minimize wastes from manufacturing and product obsolescence.

  21. I’m a huge fan of both scientific research and process and product engineering. In one form or another they explain a lot of the reason that we don’t have to hunt and gather, neither of which appeal to me much.

    Solar energy is free and widely distributed. It’s just not in a useful form any more than oil from the ground is, which is, in addition, very inequitably distributed globally.

    The conversion and distribution problem is both simpler and cheaper starting with solar energy compared to other sources.

    You can’t get cheaper than free or cheaper than cheaper.

    We got this.

  22. yeah don’t get your hopes up about any “new” technology to save us, humans are already doomed to near term extinctions within few short years and there is NOTHING anyone can do to stop it now. Too many important climate feedback loops are in motion and all the tipping points were passed years ago so total ecological and economic collapse is baked in so to speak, and the collapse will come in less than 10 years, even if we stopped pumping ALL fossil fuel produced CO2 into the atmosphere tomorrow it’s still too late to save us…it’s too bad really, we had so much potential

  23. What Kurt said.

    Joseph Momma: lots of doomsayers preceded you, decades (and more) ago; we’re still here.

  24. Thank you for the good news post – that is why I keep my subscription to Science.
    That being said, press releases tend to over-hype, and newspapers have been known to misinterpret scientific findings.
    Still, the progress being made is impressive, we just don’t know how long it will take to go from lab or even demonstration project to full scale production of any technology.

    As for the monetary aspects, they do matter. The “Capitalism isn’t the best thing, it’s the only thing” people have won out. When I started studying science, the ambitious wanted a Nobel Prize and the less ambitious wanted a tenured position and some grant money to fund their research. By the time I did my post-doctoral fellowship, the goal was to quit academia, create a startup for your discovery, and become rich. Government policies to encourage this were put into place.

    Still, Vernon is right. You need the funding to get the discoveries to see the light of day.

    People forget – Al Gore did not say he INVENTED The Internet; he said he was RESPONSIBLE for it.
    Vint Cerf is one of the real inventors of The Internet. He said that Al Gore was responsible for it. Why? Al Gore fought vigorously to continue funding that DARPA project. Money does matter.

    Also – annual instructions from my lab chief at the NIMH before this uber commercialization push – we were there to prove that it should work; then we were to let go and let the private sector finish the job. There had long been an implied division between government doing basic research and the private sector doing the applied version.

  25. I see someone on this blog supports RFK jr. I will never vote for him. He is not a scientist, yet is an anti-vaxxer, which is about as anti science as one can get. Is he a rational thinker? I think not. We’ve had enough of that for a long time to come. I do think we need to find ways to control the excesses of greed short of a revolution.

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