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Excuse the sloppy wording of this question, but I think you'll get the idea. Physics isn't my field.

This question is inspired by the discussion of ion harvesting in my prior posts.

If you were to instantly remove all of the positive charges from the particles in a given cubic meter of the atmosphere, what happens next?

Do those de-charged particles go someplace and reacquire a charge? And does that happen at the speed of light?

How fast does the cubic meter you drained of energy "refill" to the level before you drained it?

Does the space drained of electrical charge act like a vaccuum to suck in more charged particles? And if so, does the recharging happen at the speed of light or slowly?

I ask because I see a lot of folks saying there is a limited energy potential in the atsmosphere so no matter how efficiently you harvest the ions you have no hope of generating meaningful amounts of energy.

It seems to my physics-challenged brain that the rate of replenishing is as important as the quantity in existence at any given moment. Or to put it another way, if the energy you take out of the atmosphere is backfilling fast enough, and you are sucking it out fast enough, don't you have something like unlimited potential?

I assume the answer is no, but I'd like to hear it from an authority.

Who can give me the simple answer to these questions?

Follow-up question:

If I understand the answers so far, the speed with which a given space in the atmosphere can repopulate with electrons depends on the speed of the airflow and the physical composition of the air "dust."

So my follow-up question is whether you can boost the efficiency of an ion antenna by putting it in a natural wind tunnel (or high in the atmosphere) and perhaps introducing some type of optimal "dust" in that air to carry charge.

And is there any way to move charged electrons through a vaccuum that contains the ion antenna and also introduce new electrons into the vaccuum without opening it and without using more energy to do it than you create?

Thoughts on Scaling

According to yoru comments, the factors influencing the amount of ions you can harvest are wind speed, altitude, weather in general, and surface area of the antenna.

So let's say you "painted" a windmill with graphene and connected it to the same electronics handling the wind power. That saves you the expense of land, government approvals, elecronics, transmission, etc.

You could have about a thousand times more area on the windmill compared to the hobbyist's antenna.

And since windmills are in windy places, and they have elevation, you get perhaps ten times more ions. Just a guess.

Now because the wind mill blades are turning perpendicular to the incoming wind, you have the speed of the wind on top of the speed of the propeller cutting sideways throug the wind.

It can't be cheap to cover a windmill in graphene, but those costs will naturally come down.

I believe none of this gets you to good economics, but I just got you closer.

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+9
Jun 2, 2014
[Excuse the sloppy wording of this question, but I think you'll get the idea. Physics isn't my field.]
Clearly, but that's okay - I can't draw a cartoon to save my life and I don't have your wit.

[If you were to instantly remove all of the positive charges from the particles in a given cubic meter of the atmosphere, what happens next?]
Since the nucleus of the atom is positively charged and the electron cloud surrounding it is negative, you can really only add or remove negative charge to or from an atom. However, you must understand that removing the negative charges takes energy. Now perhaps that energy comes from the sun, either directly due to photons or indirectly due to movement of wind, but all you're doing is moving energy from one form to another. Guess what, we already have solar and wind collectors that are pretty good at harvesting that energy from the sun.

[Do those de-charged particles go someplace and reacquire a charge?]
When particles (charged or not) bump into other particles, charge can be transferred. Whether charge is transferred and which way the charge goes is a function of the electron affinity of each particle. Charge can also be acquired by photons striking the atom. A photon of sufficient energy can knock an electron out of its orbital.

[And does that happen at the speed of light?]
No.

[How fast does the cubic meter you drained of energy "refill" to the level before you drained it?]
The more particle interactions and the greater the difference in electron affinity between the particles, the faster the charge transfer. And to be clear, removing electrons from atoms is not draining them of energy. Moving charges from one place to another requires energy and/or can liberate some energy, but no energy is being "drained".

[Does the space drained of electrical charge act like a vaccuum to suck in more charged particles? And if so, does the recharging happen at the speed of light or slowly?]
Charged particles will cause an electric field which can attract oppositely charged particles. Similarly, the like charged particles will repel each other.

[I ask because I see a lot of folks saying there is a limited energy potential in the atsmosphere so no matter how efficiently you harvest the ions you have no hope of generating meaningful amounts of energy.]
This is true. Accept it and you will have a better, more fulfilling life.

[It seems to my physics-challenged brain that the rate of replenishing is as important as the quantity in existence at any given moment. Or to put it another way, if the energy you take out of the atmosphere is backfilling fast enough, and you are !\$%*!\$% it out fast enough, don't you have something like unlimited potential?]
It's a function of the energy input into the system, whether from sunlight or kinetic energy from the wind making particles bump into each other.

[I assume the answer is no, but I'd like to hear it from an authority. Who can give me the simple answer to these questions?]
My authority is my University degree in Physics and 25 years of engineering in the semiconductor field. There are much better authorities out there, but I am pretty good at giving simple answers due to my simple mind. :)

By the way, I saw another response which said electrons move at 1/3rd the speed of light through a copper wire. That is NOT true. The SIGNAL can move at that speed, but in a DC circuit any individual electron can take hours to move from a light switch to a light bulb (in an AC circuit, the electrons don't go anywhere, they just jiggle back and forth).

+4
Jun 2, 2014
MTBob: "Is it a scam or are they just ignorant. Unless you read minds, or have someone in their inner circle willing to testify, or some documents showing they know it's not commercially viable, we will not know the answer to that question."

It's a deliberate scam.

Nobody could do that much work, build all that hardware and not be able to see there's an elephant in their living room.

But ... *proving* its a scam in a court of law could be very difficult. You'd have to trap them in some way, with hidden cameras or whatever.

Even if you did they'd just claim bankruptcy, vanish, and start over again a few months later.

+5
Jun 1, 2014

The physical phenomenon is real, but in too small !\$%*!\$%*!\$ to make commercial scaling up possible or worthwhile. There may be (or is) some specialty use, like maybe nanobots or very low use environments or something.

But comparing to current solar technology, solar is far superior than the potential of atmospheric collection. I would need thousands of vertical aerial collectors, vs hundreds of square feet on a rooftop. The size of the collectors needed and speed of replenishment are far superior with solar.

The conclusion would be it's not worth the time or money to pursue atmospheric ion collection as a commercial alternative power generation.

Is it a scam or are they just ignorant. Unless you read minds, or have someone in their inner circle willing to testify, or some documents showing they know it's not commercially viable, we will not know the answer to that question.

*** Is there anyone who draws a different conclusion, or think you might with more information? ***

And solar is currently/still not realistic as a replacement to coal, gas, hydro and nuclear generations.
My editorial: Addressing the fear of nuclear (and continuing to improve the nuclear technologies) is the best replacement option right now. And we should head full steam into nuclear power generation, and more research and development, to make up for lost time. We do not ban automobiles when they kill people, we develop them to be safer.

+5
Jun 1, 2014
"It can't be cheap to cover a windmill in graphene, but those costs will naturally come down"

Sure, but if graphene only adds a tiny fraction of a percent to the output then maybe you spend the money on a second windmill.

[Can the second windmill be 1% better too? -- Scott]

+2
Jun 1, 2014
If you have a windmill then you don't need any graphene. The graphene would add much less then 1% to the output of the windmill.

"And since windmills are in windy places, and they have elevation, you get perhaps ten times more ions. Just a guess."

If you improve the wind/altitude then you can also improve the windmill. A decent windmill high up in a windy place can generate megawatts.

+3
May 31, 2014
I'm not physicist, but in the practicality of answering your question, I mentioned how in a previous blog post how I had this idea to drag a verrrrrrrry long nano-carbon fiber chain very high in the atmosphere and it would power the device it was attached to. So, to re-iterate: very high up, very long collector, moving, not powering a lot of things.

I'm sure your windmill idea would do something worthwhile if it was very high up in the ionosphere, had verrrrrrry long filaments or collectors and was moving at a good clip.

Something tells me the folks who have this ion collector on indiegogo set the funding very high for a reason. It won't get funded. But now they'll know a benchmark to shoot for the next time they try to get it funded. Then, they'll make their mark and get the money. I'm sure it'll be used for further research.

May 31, 2014
If you remove enough positive charge from the particles in a given cubic meter of the atmosphere you generate an enormous electric field that will cause an electrical discharge. This is what causes lightning during a thunder storm.

[If using up the energy attracts even more energy, isn't that a good thing? -- Scott]

+1
May 31, 2014
There's no real way to introduce anything into a vacuum without letting more air in.

You *could* introduce new electrons through a wire, that's what old TVs do to make a picture.

But ... if you have some electrons in a wire you should probably use them directly, not put them into a system where there's going to be some power loss.

+11
May 31, 2014
Higher in the atmosphere, there are a lot more ions. The so-called "Ionosphere," which is how high-frequency radio waves can have more than line-of-sight transmission, extends from about 53 miles above the earth to 370 miles.

So the problem is: how do you get any energy you produce back to the earth? A 200-mile long vertical cable is somewhat impractical, lol. The problem with beaming electrons from there to here is that the earth's atmosphere absorbs them.

If you could find a way to transmit electricity wirelessly a la Nikola Tesla's attempts, you could go a long way toward harvesting the potential energy available in such an arena. Many science fiction stories have posited "power satellites" that beam solar energy back to earth. Unfortunately, there's no way to do it with current technology.

Energy production is inefficient. It takes a lot more kinetic or heat energy to create electricity than we gain in useable power. Moreover, you can't create more power than you use in creating it - basic thermodynamics. The cost to create passive power (solar, wind, etc.) is very expensive and quite inefficient.

Again, we're talking about solving a non-problem. There are very good, cheap, efficient and low-climatic impact sources of energy available to us today. It's wonderful to dream about some magic power source that creates energy from nothing, but it just doesn't exist.

One of the most efficient power producers on earth is chlorophyll. If we could develop a way to do what plants do - create energy from carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water - we'd have an incredible power source. I'd recommend you put your money, should you choose to invest in this sector, in that kind of research, rather than in ionized air electricity generation.

May 31, 2014
Something else that might be happening to the ion collector in the cow pasture, is that some material surfaces aggressively rub electrons off of air that is going by. This happens with fiberglass surfaces at very low air velocity. I have personally seen this with the help of my daughter in a burger-restaurant playground. There was a gentle breeze, maybe 3-5 mph, that was charging a fiberglass sliding board. The steel frame underneath each edge of the slide extended an inch or two past the low end of the slide. When my daughter would slide down the board, it would discharge between her leg and the metal frame with an audible snap. We both thought it was her clothing rubbing the slide, but surprisingly, she went right up and slid down again and got no shock. It took about five minutes for the wind to charge the slide to the point of audibly shocking the rider. After we figured it out, I noticed she was only riding the slide right after another child. It works like the self-charging furnace filters.

+2
May 31, 2014
Scott: "And is there any way to move charged electrons through a vacuum that contains the ion antenna and also introduce new electrons into the vaccuum without opening it and without using more energy to do it than you create?"

1) A vacuum will not contain any ions. Ions are atoms where core and hull charges are out of balance.
2) You can introduce electrons into a vacuum, that's what vacuum tubes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuum_tube) did before they were replaced by diodes and transistors in most applications. However I fail to see how this could help these guys' ion power plant and it will not produce any energy.

Another way of introducing ions is to use ionizing radiation. But this would simply be a very roundabout way to use nuclear power.

May 31, 2014
I'm not sure I understand your question, but I'll try to answer as best I can. There are going to be some simplifications here, because the actuality is quite complex. There are also some really educated people who read this blog, so I'll wager you'll get a lot of very good answers.

A standard stable atom has a certain number of 'orbiting' electrons (which have a negative charge) and, in the nucleus, an equal number of positively-charged protons. If you remove an electron from an atom (which can happen either physically or chemically), you are left with a positively-charged ion, called a 'cation' (as opposed to an atom which gains an electron, which is called an anion).

When a cation is created, it leaves its electron unattached to any atom. When you walk across a carpet, you're 'brushing' electrons off the atoms in the carpet. When you touch a grounded object like a doorknob, the electrons flow from your body to the ground, because the ground has less of a negative charge than you do. This is called current flow, where current is the movement of electrons (OK, for you purists out there, it's the 'holes' that move, but I said this would be simplified).

Do electrons move at the speed of light? Obviously not, since electrons have mass, and nothing with mass can move at the speed of light (review your relativity if you want to know why). Electrons moving through a copper wire, for example, move at roughly 1/3 the speed of light.

So if you had a bunch of anions in a given space of air, you could induce a current flow from the ground (assuming the anions had a greater positive charge than the ground, which is virtually always the case). The anions stay anions until a free electron gets close enough to be trapped by the atom's electrical charge.

Fun physics fact: I mentioned that electrons have mass, and therefore can't move at any speed approaching the speed of light. There's one sort-of exception to that rule.

Electrons move in orbits at varying distances from the nucleus. If you stimulate an electron at a lower energy level (closer to the nucleus) by hitting it with a photon, which increases its energy, it moves to a higher energy level (further from the nucleus). However, it does this instantaneously. Then, when it drops back down to its normal energy level by releasing a photon of a different wave length, it again does so instantaneously. How? Beats the heck out of me.

Sure would be great to know how that happens, though. It's almost as if the electron ceases to exist at the lower energy level and is instantaneously created at the higher one. It's sort of a 'beam me up, Scotty' at the atomic level.

Anyway, I hope this is a start to answering your question. Again, I am sure you'll get a lot of really good answers from those who blog here.

+2
May 31, 2014
Scott: "Do those de-charged particles go someplace and reacquire a charge? And does that happen at the speed of light?"

No. They have to gain (or lose) and electron somehow. That electron has to come/go from another atom.

Atoms need to touch each other to transfer charge between them, it cannot happen at the speed of light.

Scott: "How fast does the cubic meter you drained of energy "refill" to the level before you drained it?"

That's actually a very good question. It takes air movement (atoms rubbing against each other) to build up a charge. You also need dust in the air for it to happen - air rubbing against air doesn't do much.

Up in the stratosphere there's always a lot of air movement but it could a long time to create new ions at ground level on a still day.

May 31, 2014
The charges in the atmosphere are being generated by fixed sources that will not be effected by the extraction. The replenishment is going to depend on the movement of additional positive ions into the depleted area. This can happen either via advection (wind moving different air into the area around the collector) or by diffusion (positive particles moving into the area via random walk). This definitely does NOT occur at the speed of light, but I don't think local charge replenishment is going to be the limiting factor. There just isn't enough charge differential between the atmosphere and the ground to drive the process very fast in the first place.

Since the last couple threads have gone by, I've come across another scientific paper of interest: "Feasibility of tapping atmospheric charge as a power source" M.L Breuer, Feasibility of tapping atmospheric charge as a power source, Renewable Energy, Volume 28, Issue 7, June 2003, Pages 1121-1127, ISSN 0960-1481, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0960-1481(02)00210-0.

Here's the conclusion from that paper (it's a very short paper):
"In conclusion, it has been demonstrated that low-power requirements for a limited number of devices such as electrostatic motors can be met by tapping atmospheric electricity. However, barring experimental measurement of any factors that significantly alter our understanding of the earthâ€“atmosphere electric circuit, it is not likely that we can expect the energy contained in the atmospheric electric field to provide a viable, large-scale source of power. But it is also becoming increasingly clear that the near future will force us to examine other systems and consider alternatives as the exhaustion of our dwindling reserves of coal and oil inevitably approaches."

May 31, 2014
Scott

Been a long time since I took physics, but in my current natural history classes (for us older folks) I would respond that nothing in nature is created or eliminated. What is there can be changed into something else, but ultimately, it remains what it was. Dealing with electricity, it would move at the speed of light.

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