Electricity collected from the air could be the newest alternative energy source

ElectricityImagine devices that capture electricity from the air - much like solar cells capture sunlight - and using them to light a house or recharge an electric car. Imagine using similar panels on the rooftops of buildings to prevent lightning before it forms. Strange as it may sound, scientists already are in the early stages of developing such devices.

Powering homes with electricity collected from the air may be possible after scientists report solving a centuries old riddle about how moisture in the atmosphere becomes electrically charged.

The notion of harnessing the power of electricity formed naturally has tantalized scientists for centuries. They noticed that sparks of static electricity formed as steam escaped from boilers. Workers who touched the steam even got painful electrical shocks. Famed inventor Nikola Tesla, for example, was among those who dreamed of capturing and using electricity from the air. It’s the electricity formed, for instance,

when water vapour collects on microscopic particles of dust and other material in the air. But until now, scientists lacked adequate knowledge about the processes involved in formation and release of electricity from water in the atmosphere, Galembeck said. He is with the University of Campinas in Campinas, SP, Brazil.

Scientists once believed that water droplets in the atmosphere were electrically neutral, and remained so even after coming into contact with the electrical charges on dust particles and droplets of other liquids. But new evidence suggested that water in the atmosphere really does pick up an electrical charge.

“These are fascinating ideas that new studies by us and by other scientific teams suggest are now possible,” Galembeck said. “We certainly have a long way to go. But the benefits in the long range of harnessing hygroelectricity could be substantial.”

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