the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Hygroelectric Generation

Posted by Jeff Id on August 26, 2010


Electricity Collected from the Air Could Become the Newest Alternative Energy Source

ScienceDaily (Aug. 25, 2010) — Imagine devices that capture electricity from the air ― much like solar cells capture sunlight ― and using them to light a house or recharge an electric car. Imagine using similar panels on the rooftops of buildings to prevent lightning before it forms. Strange as it may sound, scientists already are in the early stages of developing such devices, according to a report presented at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

21 Responses to “Hygroelectric Generation”

  1. M. Simon said

    This has got to be a joke. Have these idiots run the numbers? If we collected it all it would be in the gigawatt range not terrawatts. Sound like a lot? Spread it all over the earth. Collecting the energy from sneezing would be more useful.

    And then they are going to prevent lightening strikes? Don’t they know that they are important for some chemical reactions that fertilize plants?

  2. Earle Williams said

    It wouldn’t surprise me if in a few years we may be looking at electronic devices that have such low energy consumption they are powered from static electricity. Imagine charging your cell phone by scuffing your feet on the carpet on your way to a staff meeting. 🙂

  3. MikeN said

    The ad by Google is Senator Brown FAIL from NCDC complaining about no cap and trade bill.

  4. Brian H said

    They misnamed the phenomenon. Should be ‘water watts’!


  5. KuhnKat said

    Tesla had shown that you could generate substantial current by using the potential drop over a large change in elevation. The general stuff I have read did not include any theoretical statements about what generated the potential. Any one have any more detailed information. Maybe from his patents??

  6. BarryW said

    Read Heinlein’s “Waldo” before getting too enthusiastic about broadcast power. (now there’s a term that has fallen out of usage, anyone remember Waldoes? )

  7. Claw in Ga said

    Re 6

    and you had to have faith in “waldos” or they wouldn’t work!

  8. Pops said

    Go nuclear.

  9. John M said

    I hate to be a grumpy old fart, but as a chemist, it’s sad to see how far my profession has fallen. We once provided society with useful new products to increase our quality of life. Maybe the products weren’t perfect, but at least they were real. Now? Shameless hype aimed at seeking grants for solutions that still need “a great deal of work to be done”.

    Here’s another example.

    Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be better for these folks to just grab a shovel and do some real work shoveling real dirt, rather than what they’re shoveling now.

  10. Steve Fitzpatrick said


    I recently resigned, after 35+ years, from the American Chemical Society. Just couldn’t stomach their nutty enviro-climate politics any more. Supporting the crazy editorial positions of the ACS with my dues bothered me for 10 years, but now I feel better. If you are a member, I suggest you do the same.

  11. Steve Fitzpatrick said

    Sorry, that was #9!

  12. Pat Frank said

    As a chemist I can perhaps see what’s going on. Notice the mention of air-suspended silica particles, and aluminum phosphate particles. They’re talking about dry atmospheric particulates, which grow into aerosols after attachment of sufficient water.

    Silica or phosphate particles almost certainly have surface charges due to unsatisfied ionic valences at the particle surface. These surfaces are not chemically innocent. In contact with water, they’ll react and split the water into hydroxide (silica) and hydronium (phosphate). The silica particle can become negatively charged thereby, and the aluminum phosphate positively charged.

    [Hydroxide is OH(-) and hydronium is H(+), and together they make HOH = H2O]

    I don’t want to belabor this, but it’s incredible to me that someone thinks they can get power out of the chemistry. Chemical electroneutrality says that every negative charge must be balanced by a positive charge. Unbalanced charges rapidly build up a huge voltage that prevents any further charge separation.

    To get any power from charged particulates, you’d have to segregate them off into areas of opposite charge. How one would do that deliberately over cubic miles of air is hard to imagine. And then, how would you maintain a high density of particulates of the same charge. The repulsive electronic force would get very large.

    Thunderheads do it, but by external storm energies and shear forces sufficient to separate charges and sweep particles of like charge into some proximity, producing charged clouds. But it takes storm energy to achieve this; probably more energy than is finally stored and released by thunderheads. (It seems like the 2nd Law ought to have some bearing here.)

    I looked into the issue a little, after starting to write this comment. According to Jean-Pierre Pinty and Christelle Barthe (2008) Ensemble Simulation of the Lightning Flash Variability in a 3D Cloud Model with Parameterizations of Cloud Electrification and Lightning Flashes Monthly Weather Review 136 (1), 380-387, from the very first sentence, “… even the origin of cloud electrification (the inductive and noninductive charge separation processes) is still not fully understood.”

    Sounds like all that’s left to do is produce the engineering feasibility study. Right. Environmental visionaries, grasping at straws, yet again.

  13. Sam said


    Collecting the energy from sneezing would be more useful.

    I seem to remember a Dilbert cartoon where Dogbert was trying to sell sneezing powder and a small fan (generator) as an electricity generation device. Don’t give these ‘scientists’ any ideas.

  14. Retired Engineer said

    Ayn Rand’s hero, John Gault, did this 60 years ago. Science had ‘discovered’ a 100 volt/meter (or so) field strength in the atmosphere. Free power, but at miniscule current, which keeps tall folks from being electrocuted. If you walk under a high tension line at night, holding a florescent tube over your head, it will light up dimly. (this is a rather stupid thing to do)

    In the real world, it obviously doesn’t work.

    Santyana said something about failing to learn from history …

  15. slimething said

    I can hear it now:

    “Fill er up with aether’ 🙂

  16. BarryW said

    I just remembered that NASA tried to do an experiment with a long wire that was suspended below (orbitally speaking) the shuttle. The intent was to cut through magnetic field lines to generate current. I seem to remember it failed for some reason and was never tried again to my knowledge. Anybody remember this?

  17. Gary said

    #16. Yup, they had a problem with deploying the tether. Kept getting kinked and twisted, iirc.

  18. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: Steve Fitzpatrick (Aug 26 22:20),

    I recently resigned, after 35+ years, from the American Chemical Society.

    I’m surprised it took you so long. For me it was the issue of that awful rag C&EN supporting Meselson’s ridiculous bee pollen theory for the yellow rain biochemical warfare attacks in SE Asia. I switched to AAAS for a while, but they also went so a##s$#% over AGW that I dropped that membership too. Other than a reduced rate for journal subscriptions that I didn’t need because there were in the company library, I never did see any real benefit from membership.

  19. Mike said

    I recently retired from the energy industry after 37 years (chemical engineer). One of my duties during the last 15 years of my career was to run a group charged with searching for and evaluating “new energy technologies” and this article is typical of the garbage that would cross my desk only too frequently.

    Seldom did we find it necessary to engage in a rigourous third party due-diligence evaluation since 95-99% of “new energy technologies” failed to pass the first evaluation hurdle of common sense. The terms practicality, scalability, reliability, cost, risk profile etc seemed to be alien concepts to the majority of new technology proponents and heaven forbid that they could producee a verifiable mass and energy balance! Typically they had not done their homework on these fundamental issues and could not answer and support with evidence even simple questions.

    What concerns me most however about the subject article is the implicit statement it makes regards current governance of university education.

    I whole heartedly endorse comment #9.


  20. Suibhne said

    I remember an April Fool spoof about using electric eels to provide realistic levels of power.
    I think I might concoct something similar with nice graphs and error bars and submit it to “Nature” for peer review.
    After all they have published even less plausible scenarios.

  21. The article it not about capturing lightning strikes, but scavenging small charges from moist air. However it’s not “a few years off” it’s been known since the 1930s. My neighbor built one, it does indeed work as advertised and can be made from scavenged parts. I suspect the reason it’s not as popular as solar or wind is there’s noting to sell anybody, you probably have the stuff to build it lying around in your garage. Here’s a schematic, plans and theory of operation here:

    Please spread the word.

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