Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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easier lightning harnessing

get power from lightning with concrete, pipes, a turbine and water... and a rocket
  [vote for,

take a bath of water and through it set up a series of spark gaps which are like metal spheres that will channel the lightning through the water. When high voltage capacitor banks are discharged through water the water explodes violently and can be run through a turbine producing usable electrical power. This could even be stored for a while and slowly leaked out into the turbine. A tesla turbine would be best so you wouldn't need to dry the water vapor and could just send the expanding gas through it. It would take an extremely strong structure to house this bath, and would need to be able to stand a lot of pressure, plus not conduct electricity, so maybe something like a geodesic dome made from concrete with a pvc pipe skeleton. At the top of this dome you'd have something like a rocket with a wire connected to it and the top of the dome, which is connected to the sparkgaps with extremely thick wire. The rocket could be shot up to give a nice path of least resistance and wouldn't need to be too thick, just give it a path and the lighting would break down the air like it always would. Then the other end of the spark gap would simply be connected to a big ground below that dome made from like thick copper pipes sunk 50 feet and hooked together. This could also be used as a sort of water gun or a large unmobile bomb of considerable power. Imagine a giant boiler exploding with the force of lightning.
almightytesla, Jul 12 2003

Lightning as a power source? http://wvlightning....001/ok-52901c.shtml
This site has some terrific lightning photos. [Amos Kito, Oct 04 2004, last modified Feb 02 2008]

Capacitor experiments http://www.amasci.c...mateur/capexpt.html
Describes exploding jello similar to what is proposed above. [bungston, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 06 2004]

My favorite lightning discussion http://www.halfbake...ing_20Power_20Plant
The opener on this topic is somewhat hamstrung by the disappearance of PeterSealy. [bungston, Oct 04 2004]


       I'm gonna have to run to the concession stand for this one. Save my seat.   

       However you convert it to power (given that lightning *is* electricity, you can just connect it right into the grid), the average strike provides enough energy to power a lightbulb for all of six minutes. Ho hum fishbone.
DrCurry, Jul 12 2003

       You fucking idiot, in order to "connect" an extremely high voltage high impluse burst of electricity into the power grid, not to mention in a form other than alternating current, you'd need to first send it through a transformer larger than would have ever been built inorder to withstand that amount of watts, using an extremely large amount of iron. then you'd have to reduce the impulse which in slower drawn out usable electrical energy. Water boiled off by electrical arcs is extremely useful to run a turbine off of. There is a reason transformers explode when struck by lightning, the lightning bursts throught the insulation which is only capable of about 14400v, boils off the oil because the pole pig gets so hot from being short circuited draws virtually unlimited current as a result and bursts the metal container. The ONLY way to make lightining into a usable form of energy is by converting it to mechanical energy, water would work excellently, causing expanding steam and running a turbine. I work with high voltage electricity, no transformer could withstand a bolt of lightning without catastrophic failure internally. To believe that lightning could somehow be transformed directly into alternating electricity by simply "connecting it right into the grid" shows you have absolutely no understanding of electricity, energy or exceedingly basic science. Lightning produces hundreds kiloamps of power at hundreds of millions of volts, and the only reason it could only power a lightbulb (whose powerconsumption was never defined you could be talking about a searchlight) for 6 miniutes would be the ineffiecient conversion into alternating current. The only possible way to convert it directly into usable electricity would be to have it strike a tesla coil secondary, and then tapping the primary, though tesla coils as a powersource would interupt all radio and television stations if used today. You fucking dumbass.
almightytesla, Jul 13 2003

       The average lightning flash would light a 100 watt light bulb for 3 months.
almightytesla, Jul 13 2003

       While [DrCurry] might be an idiot and/or a dumbass, it's pretty damn impolite to crash our party and start insulting the guests. That's the easiest way to get blacklisted here. Fair warning.   

       I think it's an interesting idea, but you tackle it like it's a simple engineering issue. You completely disregard the fact that it only runs when there's lightning available and you can get it to strike. I suspect there would be a strong NIMBA sentiment as well.
phoenix, Jul 13 2003

       I respect intellegent criticisms but have none for mindless simplifications of electricity such as sending lightning purposely into the grid. Phoenix your point is excellent but lighting strikes earth millions of times a day, you could have lots of stations positioned around the earth with multiple rockets and could do it like 100 times a thunder storm.
almightytesla, Jul 13 2003

       "...you could have lots of stations positioned around the earth..."
How many? At what cost? If they're positioned around the Earth, to whom does the electricity belong? I'll suggest once more that this is a big glass house and you ought not go throwing stones. It would be easy for me to suggest your idea is a "mindless simplification".

       Welcome to the HalfBakery. Hold on to your hat.
phoenix, Jul 13 2003

       Good point, Rods. If these worked at all (and I suspect they might), they'd hafta be built such that water from a nearby body could flow in when the reservoyry was emptied.
galukalock, Jul 13 2003

       Curb your enthusiasm, knave, and welcome to the halfbakery, //you fucking idiot *&* dumbass//
How many generations before this system pays for itself?
thumbwax, Jul 13 2003

       To believe that lightning could boil water for long enough to run a turbine shows you have absolutely no understanding of thermodynamics, electricity, energy or exceedingly basic science.   

       <unnecessary expletives omitted>
lurch, Jul 13 2003

       Damnit, pop's flat. What did I miss?

Crap. I always miss the good stuff.

       This idea intrigues me. I read up on the capacitor discharge experiments and you can very much blow stuff up with capacitors. I wonder if this is analogous to a lightning strike. I have seen lightning strike water and it seemed a pretty calm affair. I supposed that the water was fairly conductive because of dissolved salts, and the lightning was conducted down to ground. One would think that if this idea could work, lightning striking a lake would cause a phenomenal geyserlike explosion.   

       There are places where lightning strikes a lot, and I think that this has been covered in some of the other lightning schemes on the HB. Overall, it seems to me that the way to harness lightning is to bleed off and use the charge _before_ a strike develops.
bungston, Jul 28 2003

       Interesting conversation ... I am doing the ultimate evil and surfing the 'net during many manifestations of this very topic! Lightning is certainly fun stuff.   

       I have thought about harnessing the power just as many hundreds of thousands of people before me. I refuse to think that it is *impossible*, and I also refuse to think that it will forever be cost prohibitive. All this is based on very little forethought, just 'gut feeling' so to speak.   

       However, a little knowledge of currently available capacitors might just make some of you doubters think twice. Then again, I could be shooting my argument in it's proverbial foot too ... so take everything with a grain of salt, eh? ;)   

       Suppose that we could get a phenomenally large glob of Tantalum. (For those who never really thought of this stuff before, it's currently one of the most widly used natural capacitors - well Ta05 is - in cell phones, computers, etc.) I don't have a periodic table in front of me and I couldn't be bothered to get all the specific info about it for y'all; but the jist of it is that Tantalum has a very high specific heat, has a very heat capacity, extremely high melting point, and naturally stores voltage.   

       Now, we have to look at this in stages, all this has been mentioned, but I'll rehash cuz I type fast. Lightning is high voltage and relatively low amperage, is DC current, usually follows the path of least resistance (which is sometimes beyond our ken), and is grounded in the Earth. Note that on occasion the current is actually from ground to clouds. This could throw a wrench in all our scheming.   

       Ah crap, now it's hailing outside .... so much for my garden.   

       Anyway, where was I. Okay, so we have this wicked ass bolt of lightning, and lets just say it's the right type and it hits our location ideally. Now we have to catch it somehow. Well, we have to offer the lightning a plausible path. I mean, if we have too much resistance in our "monster circuit", then it's just gonna pick a different path, like out the side of our little lightning-harnessing-house. This seems to imply that we are going to have to sacrifice some of the juice in order to maintain a "low-resistance" pathway. We would have to determine just how much resistance the Earth offers the static as a normal lightning strike manifests.   

       So now lets say we have a big ass tower, or rocket with a wire, or whatever turns your crank. We get the lightning to the "entrance" of our circuit. Now we have to slow it down, spread it out, convert it, and use it.   

       We can't really slow it down much because that would be increasing the overall resistance to a level greater than a ground strike. (this is of course debatable since we don't really know how much resistance there is). We can spread it out by creating an incredibly huge array of conductive material - you pick it, say copper, or aluminum, or whatever ... I would call this array something of a pre-capacitor. Remember, I don't deal with high voltage much, so go easy on me.   

       This array would have to be insulated using some sort of high-temperature, low-conductive material. You pick it, there are lots to choose from. This would induce an incredibly huge, and potentially moldable, electromagnetic field. At this point we could just stick the end of the "wire" in the ground and use just the small portion of the energy in the form of electromagnetic field. (Think of the iron nail and copper wire coil trick). But this just isn't good enough for me ....   

       Now we have our humungus (and retardedly expensive) lump of Tantalum which is in an insulated container (I doubt it would get terribly hot, you just have to prevent the charge from spontaneously leaping out in a new bolt of lightning. I dunno, say an immensly hunormous vat of oil. Whatever. But you'd have to throw in a wire of some specific thickness to discharge excess power to the environment (ground). Here is where we get really touchy because if we have no resistance, we'll lose all our power. If we have too much resistance, we'll just either melt the whole works down, or not even get a strike to stay in our circuit.   

       Once the electricity is safely stored in the giant Tantalum (or Ta05) capacitor, we could bleed the charge off through your favorite transformer to turn a turbine, to run a heating element, whatever turns your crank. (pardon the pun).   

       Question: Okay, lets pretend this hairbrained scheme works. Humor me guys. If we statistically modelled lightning strike power (probably already done), isn't it possible to create a large enough capacitor that we could naturally reduce the resistance of our system? You know, base it on a "safe working load" of the system. There are lots of issues here, like shape and anote/cathode orientation, but isn't there a way we could say, "if it's this big, then we don't need a ground"?   

       Question: A parallel series of capacitors, could this be useful? Or would it instead just blow them up/melt them down starting from closest to and ending with furthest from the strike?   

       Comment: Dude, this would cost a lot. Um, I don't have that kind of cash, so like ... you can do it. I'll watch.
Em3rald, Aug 07 2003

       the only problem with a capacitor in my mind is how you'd discharge it, because resistors which can handle high voltage are far more difficult to aquire. Then you have to insulate both wires from each other. The voltage lightning gives to the capacitor is enough at least to make at least a 500 foot spark, and so both wires need to be 500 feet apart, which means the capacitors terminals need to be at least that distance. Just because plastic could withstand that voltage doesn't mean the air will. Plus lets say you get in between the terminals and just happen to bridge the gap, you get struck by lightning. Also the terminals would need to be far enough from the ground so that your electricity isn't lost and to reduce electical hazards since the lightning will strike the ground as the other end of the capacitor is connected to it. so you have wires 500 feet apart suspended 500 feet in the air, and 500 feet isn't any kind of accurate measure I have no idea how long arcs get, I'm just saying that any capacitor holding the voltage of lightning will be hard to work with.
almightytesla, Aug 21 2003

       Maybe the solution is to put the lightning harvest apparatus in orbit and bleed the lightning upwards. No better insulator than vacuum. Plus if you saw any of those cloudtop sprite thingers, you could grab them and put them in the capacitor as well.
bungston, Aug 22 2003

       No matter how good your idea is, personal attacks are only going to bring you fishbones.
PinkDrink, Aug 08 2004


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