The Next Bigly Thing: Power from the Air
by Robert A. Nelson
The lightning bolts hurled at us by angry gods
amply demonstrate the abundance of energy latent in the heavens.
Lightning also introduced humans to fire.
Benjamin Franklin's legendary kite flight during a thunderstorm in
1752 marks the beginning of our Promethean attempts to draw power
from atmospheric electrostatic (ES) energy. Considerable progress
has been made since then, and the industrial scale production of
electrical power from the sky has been an accomplished fact since
the early 1900s. The promising technology fell dormant after World
War One, however, and it has slept since then.
Atmospheric electricity offers several advantages over other
energy sources; the technology is simple and robust, costs less
than wind or solar power, and it is available anywhere anytime.
Earth is an electrostatic generator -- the atmosphere is
positively charged relative to the negatively polarized Earth. The
system generates approximately 3 x 10 ^ -16 Amperes/sq. cm. (1500
Amperes for the entire Earth).
Andor Palenscar's "Apparatus for Collecting Atmospheric
Electricity" included a novel motor to utilize the ES energy,
described in US patent US674427, granted in 1901:
Walter Pennock developed an aerial energy collector, for which
he was granted US patent US911260 in 1909 and US1014719 in 1912.
The Atmospheric Electric Siphon invented by Jules Guillot in the
1920s generated about 2.5-3 kilowatts with antenna height of ~ 20
meters. The power depends on the total collector surface and
height of the vertical antenna. A tabletop apparatus with only a 2
meter tall collector produced ~300 watts.
The great promise of Guillot's device was reported in The
Invention Encyclopedia (1930, edited by the eminent engineer
"The capture of atmosphere electricity has been used
in France, with aerial cables mounted on the Mont Blanc, and
also in Germany --- with conductive cables carried by the
The electric siphons produce a magnetic field and absorb the
aerial electricity. A Ruhmkorff induction coil is used to
jump-start the system. Guillot received three French Patents for
his "Apparatus for Capture of Atmospheric Electric Currents with
Immediate Implementation" ( FR551882, FR565395, and FR551882 )
"The atmosphere electricity collect system invented by eng.
Jules Guillot is most ingenious and it relies on "the electric
siphon". His method consisted in the direct "pumping" of the
atmosphere electricity using a collecting device which had two
antennae and several collecting rods.
"One antenna is vertical and it has a lot of rods scattered like
an opened fan, with the tips against the zenith, for collecting
the negative electricity which comes from the air; the
horizontal antenna is orientated against the South and its role
is to collect the positive electricity:
"Guillot used two separated and insulated armatures with the
positive armature against the South ( more precisely, against
the Equator...) and the negative armature against the zenith...
Also, J. Guillot used an electrical transformer for the
industrial utilization of this collector as power supply for
industrial electric engines."
The Estonian Hermann Plauson was director of the Fischer-Tropsch
Laboratories in Hamburg, Germany during the 1910s and 20s,. He
thoroughly investigated atmospheric electricity and constructed
practical apparatus to utilize it. His book "Gewinnung und
Verwertung der Atmosphärischen Elektrizität" (1920) provides
a detailed explanation of the technology.
Hugo Gernsbach presented the invnetion in Science &
Invention magazine (March 1922, June 1928). He noted that
the system was "actually in use small power plants, that generate
electricity direct from the air, day and night, without
interruption at practically no cost, once the plant is
"Herr Plauson found in his experiments that a single
balloon sent aloft to a height of 300 yards gave a constant
current at 400 volts of 1.8 amperes, or in 24 hours over 17-1/4
kilowatts! By using two balloons in connection with a special
condenser battery, the power obtained was 81-1/2 kilowatts in 24
hours. The actual current delivered was 6.8 amperes at 500
One hundred balloons, 100 yards apart, will generate at least 200
horsepower, up to 400 during winter. Plauson used batteries of
condensers and high voltage transformers to light lamps, run
motors and charge batteries, etc. He also invented an
electrostatic rotary transformer to produce alternating current.
The system literally sucks electricity from the collector
balloons. The balloons also act as lightning arresters and quickly
discharge thunder clouds.
"The best balloons... are made of thin aluminum leaf, filled
with helium...The surface is dotted with electrolytically
sharpened pins amalgamated with zinc, and a pinch of radium salt
to further ionize the air. By dotting the balloon with
photoelectric zinc or polonium amalgam, the amount of
electricity can be greatly increased."
"There is no doubt that this invention will soon come
into universal use all over the world. We will see the land
dotted with captive balloons, particularly in the country and
wherever water power does not abound. Indeed, the time is not
distant when nearly all of our power will be derived from the
atmosphere. So far it seems to be the cheapest form of power
known... safely extracting several kilowatts of electrical power
from the atmosphere with metallic surfaced balloons, elevated to
a height of only 1000 feet.
Plauson also constructed a powerful industrial scale prototype of
his collector in the Alps between two peaks, as illustrated (Click
"German patents show the use of a kite balloon from which hangs
a metal net to collect electricity. The tether-conductor leads
to a windlass. The patents claim that at a height of one mile
225,000 volts will be available. Plauson proposed the
construction of insulated towers about 1000 feet high to support
the aerials... [H]e carried out experiments with a balloon made
of aluminum leaf with collecting needles of amalgamated zinc
with a radium preparation as an ionizer. The surface of the
balloon was sprinkled over with zinc amalgam. It was sent up to
a height of 300 meters, early 1,000 feet, and was held by a
copper-plated steel wire. A constant current of 1.8 amperes at
an average of 400 volts potential difference was obtained. This
gave nearly three-quarters of a kilowatt, or close to one
horsepower. The collector of the balloon insulated from the
earth showed a tension of 42,000 volts. By sending up a second
balloon with an antenna to the same height at a distance of 100
meters from the first balloon, a current of over 3 amperes was
obtained. Then by putting into the circuit a large condenser,
whose capacity was equal to the surface capacity of both
balloons, and of the antenna connections, the current rose to
6.8 amperes with about 500 volts mean tension. By the use of
these two balloons, he eventually ran up the power to 3.4
He received several patents: US1540998 (Conversion of Atmospheric
Electricity), BP157262 (Improvements in Electric Motors), BP157263
(Process & Apparatus for Converting Static Atmospheric
Electrical Energy into Dynamic Electrical Energy), etc.
There has been little progress in this field of research since
Since 1997 Meridian International Research has been conducting
experiments to convert atmospheric ES energy to usable power,
further developing the ideas of Plauson, Oleg Jefimenko, and
others. Their website (which has not been updated since
"From a low level (5m high) simple zinc antenna we are
able to obtain sufficient charge to light a number of white
power LEDs. Further experimental investigations with metallic
aerostat collectors and cavity resonant slow wave antennae
concepts are ongoing..."
Jules Guillot and Hermann Plauson proved that we can generate
industrial levels of power from atmospheric ES energy, and
Meridian International Research has shown that LEDs can be lit by
a small antenna.
Somewhere between the two extremes there's a lot of money to be
About the Author: Robert A. Nelson is a 10th grade dropout
with no credentials. He established Rex Research in 1982
to archive information about suppressed, dormant and emerging
technologies, sciences, inventions, therapies, and stuff. He