The Next Bigly Thing: Power from the Air
by Robert A. Nelson

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

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:

palenscar1  palenscar2

Walter Pennock

Walter Pennock developed an aerial energy collector, for which he was granted US patent US911260 in 1909 and US1014719 in 1912.


Jules Guillot

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 George Constantinescu):
"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 captive balloons.

"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."


guillot2   guillot3
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 )

Hermann Plauson

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 constructed."
"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 volts.

"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."

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.
"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.

"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 kilowatts."
Plauson also constructed a powerful industrial scale prototype of his collector in the Alps between two peaks, as illustrated (Click to enlarge):

plauson1 plauson2

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 then.

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 2005) states:
"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 made...

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 persists...