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Harnessing electricity from the air

Ben Franklin and lightningTesla

From Benjamin Franklin to Nicola Tesla, scientists and great thinkers have dreamed of pulling electricity from the sky and harnessing its power. Now researchers at Brazil’s University of Campinas (UC), led by Professor Fernando Galembeck, a UC chemist, may be a step closer to doing just that.


The research team is studying the ways electricity builds up and spreads in the atmosphere, and how it could be collected. Calling the process ‘hygroelectricity’ – meaning “humidity electricity” – the team has found that water in the atmosphere can accumulate electrical charges and transfer them to other things. They discovered the process by simulating water vapor reactions in a laboratory with dust particles common to the atmosphere.

Lightning Storm

Presenting his findings in Boston at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, Galembeck envisions collectors, reminiscent of solar cells, that would collect and distribute hygroelectricity from the air. These collectors would obviously work best in humid parts of the world. He believes these collectors could diminish the air’s electrical charge, effectively preventing lightning, particularly if mounted on top of tall buildings, and providing an excellent alternative energy source to power things like cars or homes. The team’s currently working to find which type of metal will work best for this innovative process.

It would sure be a great vindication of Tesla’s work if they do figure it out!

Debra Atlas is a freelance environmental writer and eco-enthusiast based in Northern California, and is the Red Ferret’s Ecological Editor. Debra looks for the upside of eco-change – what’s positive, making a difference. She hunts down those interesting things cooked up by creative minds, especially if they’re strange and eccentric.

Debra Atlas – who has written posts on The Red Ferret Journal.

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