by David Bois
Recent scientific advancements have led to one innovation that can extract potable water from atmospheric moisture and another that produces synthetic fuel feedstock by removing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Science Daily now reports of cutting-edge clean energy developments that are poised to harvest the electrical energy produced naturally in the atmosphere.
It's a phenomenon that has been known about for centuries. Nikola Tesla knew that the interaction between air and water in the atmosphere generated an electrical charge, but he was unable to fulfill his vision of capturing electrical energy from the air. It's a challenge that has continued to both tempt and confound scientists. But Brazilian researcher Fernando Galembeck, in a presentation given before the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Boston, maintains that it's not simply theoretically possible, but that it's nearing our reach.
Science Daily describes the process of capturing ambient atmospheric electricity as analogous to how a solar panel captures energy from the sun. Using very small particles of silica and aluminum phosphate to mimic the electrical charge gathering ability of water droplets, Galembeck's research team has developed an early stage device that successfully gathers and transfers the electrical energy that surrounds us.
"Our research could pave the way for turning electricity from the atmosphere into an alternative energy source for the future," Galembeck explains. "Just as solar energy could free some households from paying electric bills, this promising new energy source could have a similar effect."
He concedes that the developments aren't quite ready for prime time, but that early indications are that the approach holds great promise for bearing fruit with the benefit of additional research and development: "These are fascinating ideas that new studies by ourselves and by other scientific teams suggest are now possible. We certainly have a long way to go. But the benefits in the long range of harnessing hygroelectricity could be substantial."
A safety payoff could even arise with successful development and adaptation of the technology. By installing networks of energy harvesting devices in areas prone to thunderstorms, the buildup of electrical charge could conceivably be captured and redirected before it builds up to critical levels that lead to damaging and sometimes deadly lightning strikes.
This post originally appeared on Tonic. Additional links added by Worldchanging.
Image of lightning over Campinas via Flickr/Cheval Brasil.
An innovation that can extract potable water from atmospheric moisture... isn't that called rain? How many prospective new energy sources do we need before we have viable, workable alternative sources of energy? Don't get me wrong, the nerdy side of me loves this article, but the practical side is growing weary.
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