Electricity Could Be Pulled From the Air, Researcher Claims

Terrence O’Brien
Switched

Dr. Francesco Galembeck of Brazil’s University of Campinas presented new research at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society that, he claims, could lead to a new method of collecting renewable energy. According to his experiments, it is possible to generate an electrical charge by passing water vapor, potentially in the form of humid air, over metal particles. Theoretically, this means that with the right materials, it should be possible to literally pull electricity from the air, collecting it like an electric sponge. However, the charge collected in the experiments was exceedingly small — not nearly enough to power much of anything.

The study has already raised some debate, not just over its feasibility, but as to whether or not the mechanics at work truly represent “pulling electricity out of the air.” Some suggest that the charge generated was due to a well-known phenomena called tribocharging, which, in one one form, generates electrical charges by rubbing water droplets against one another (the source of thunderstorms). Needing the humid particles to move over the metals also means that the power collection method will prove to be less efficient in areas where the air is still. Of course, there is still plenty of research to be done before the concept is discarded. Who knows? Maybe one day, instead of solar cells, we’ll all have electricity sponges on the roofs of our homes.


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