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Harnessing Lightning

harnessing lightning energy with a pool of molten tungsten
  (+16, -2)(+16, -2)
(+16, -2)
  [vote for,

Lightning delivers plenty of power, but is not harnessable as far as I know.

An array of lightning rods would channel the electricity to a large underground reservoir of tungsten (or other metal with a high specific heat). This would melt the metal, storing the energy as heat. The energy can then be harnessed at a leisurely pace by creating steam and generating electricity from it.

This system would referrably be set up in a region that is rich in storms and away from population centers.

cowtamer, Apr 11 2003

fulgurites http://www.minresco...lgurites/egypt4.htm
drinking straws of the gods. [2 fries shy of a happy meal, Oct 06 2004, last modified Oct 17 2004]

Lightning, again. http://www.halfbake...ing_20Power_20Plant
A pretty lame idea but a decent discussion [bungston, Oct 17 2004]

yes, lightning again http://peswiki.com/...ghtning:Livingstone
[Thefifthangel, Dec 25 2005]

Lightning charges atmosphere http://www.stormchasing.nl/lightning.html
[spidermother, Jan 27 2006]

DeLorean with flux capacitor http://cgi.ebay.com...tem&item=4644351427
1:1 replica of back to the future DeLorean, $45k+, ends June 2nd 2006. [jutta, May 30 2006]

The lightning capture idea of JBarakitis High_20Frequency_20Induction
[Voice, Oct 08 2008]

Realtime lightning strikes http://www.blitzort...s/index.php?lang=en
There's a lot of it about. [MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 28 2014]


       I think the big question here is why? It seems to me that the cost of the tungsten would be very high compared to the cost of the energy you would be generating.
Worldgineer, Apr 11 2003

       The tungsten isn't going to be depleted by what he's suggesting unless it gets vaporised. (It might I suppose.) I don't know if you could coax lightning to strike it often enough to provide useful amounts of power. Still, this is a better idea than the ones that consist of using lighting to charge capacitors, etc. since that only proves that the proposer has no conception of the difference between static electricity and circuits.
Madcat, Apr 11 2003

       I'll croissant this idea for the same reason as Madcat, but I think it might be better implemented with a storage medium chosen based on cost per btu stored, rather than just specific heat. Oh, FYI...tungsten melts at 3410 celsius.
Freefall, Apr 11 2003

       Not an original idea.
waugsqueke, Apr 11 2003

       I do not like waugs' one line dismissal. I sure have never heard of this methods for harnessing lightning. But I don't think it will work. To successfully coax in the lightning, there must be a path to ground: this is what lightning wants. The lightning will hit the (conductive) tungsten and may melt a little bit, but most will pass thru to ground. If you put the tungsten in a rubber room so the lightning can't get to ground, it won't hit the tungsten.   

       Waugs, if you know a site or book with a detailed overview of lighting harnessing attempts, I would love to know it. This is one of my favorite topics for speculation.
bungston, Apr 12 2003

       I don't get how melting the metal stores the energy as heat. Won't the heat simply dissipate?   

       Tesla did some experiments with harnessing lightning, but I don't think it involved molten metals.
snarfyguy, Apr 12 2003

       //Not an original idea.//

Oh, it’s original all right. But it’s easy enough to imagine some original hare-brained scheme that would never work in a million years...

On the other hand, you could actually get a patent on this. It might involve some browbeating of the examiner, but it could be done.

Then you would have an official document that would allow you to prevent anyone from wasting money on trying to melt tungsten with bolts of lighting.

Have you thought of what material to use for this lighting rod, that could possibly channel all this energy. So much energy that it is capable of melting tungsten, which has the highest melting point of all metals?

BTW, heavy metals like tungsten don't have much heat capacity -- only 3% that of water at room temp.
pluterday, Apr 12 2003

       //Then you would have an official document that would allow you to prevent anyone from wasting money on trying to melt tungsten with bolts of lighting. //   

       Ha ha!
snarfyguy, Apr 12 2003

       You would not need a large lightening rod. I have seen experiments where they channel lightening bolts by firing small rockets trailing a fine conductive filament. The lightning just needs a path of least resistance.   

       // Waugs, if you know a site or book with a detailed overview of lighting harnessing attempts, I would love to know it. This is one of my favorite topics for speculation. //   

       bung, the idea of harnessing the power of lightning predates Benjamin Franklin for crying out loud.
waugsqueke, Apr 12 2003

       [2 fries] //You would not need a large lightening rod//

Well actually, the fine filament is vaporized by the current, so it is a one shot affair...

[UB] //tell me the material from which you propose to make a receptacle//

Even though tungsten has the highest melting point of any metal, there are non-metals with higher melting points. HfC, for instance, has the highest melting point for a two element compound (3890 C vs 3410 C for tungsten).

But obviously, if you want to store heat, you have to get your pool of liquid metal far past the melting point. So your container would melt before you were able to get any real heat capacity.

Molten salts would be a much better choice for storing this heat energy.
pluterday, Apr 12 2003

       To successfully harness lightning, I think you need two things: 1 - You need to get it gradually. A lightning rod is the simplest way to do this. The reason lightning bolts pack such a wallop is that there must be enough charge to ionize a conductive path through the air. With a high pint, you could trickle off the charge before it ever built up so high.   

       2 - You need to store the energy somehow. One example I thought of is the electrolytic seperation of water. You could burn the hydrogen and oxygen for fuel when you saw fit.   

       Another problem with the molten tungsten is that the heat will dissipate.   

       There was another idea around here that got into this to some degree. I will see if I can find it.
bungston, Apr 13 2003

       There are a couple of things everyone seems to be disregarding:   

       1) I suggested Tungsten for the specific heat, but there are many other metals that would do. Now that I think about it, Iron or a lower melting point metal might work better. You would just have to make sure you have enough metal in your reservoir to keep it from boiling (total heat stored=specific heat*mass)   

       2) Dissipating heat from a large pool of molten metal is not easy. Heat a very large pot of water (with adult supervision, of course!) and time how long it takes to cool down. An underground reservoir of molten metal weighing several tons would stay hot for days, if not weeks.   

       3) The suggestion that you first have to melt the metal before it can store heat is absurd. Any "body" (conductor or not) has no choice but to store heat until it is somehow dissipated or radiated away. In addition, quite a bit of heat can be stored as the heat of fusion while you are trying to melt any solid.   

       3) The easiest way to harness the stored heat would be by using it to turn water into steam, possibly by running pipes through the reservoir (which is why a low boiling point metal for the reservoir might be good--the pipes can be made out of sturdier metal).
lemuel_epstein, May 05 2003

       I don' t see how an underground metal resevoir would solve anything. In a high voltage distribution sub-station they use inter connected rerod buried approx. 3ft to distribute high current short to ground. Which absorbs the energy from most lightning strikes on towers. When you place several tons of metal into the(moist) earth you just created a great ground to earth.
BCC812, May 08 2003

       molten salt would work well. that is usually what is used in the nuclear bomb power source designs.
johnmeacham, May 09 2003

       See feynman's lectures on physics for a good description of how lightening works and why it would be difficult to use as an energy source.
Among other interesting things, you learn that lightening is NOT discharging potential differences, but is actually what charges the atmosphere. lightening is what creates the huge charge difference between the atmosphere and the earth, it isn't the mechanism that discharges it.
johnmeacham, May 09 2003

       Here is the problem... POWER is rated (Overall) in WATTS... (Heat conversion)... If a SOURCE of POWER can only generate X heat WATTS then it can only be converted into Y current @ volts @ amps... and if you ever saw a lightning strike damage... you will realize that it is not that powerful... only lightly damaging things like aluminum, steel, copper, concrete, sand...   

       The misconception is that it is powerful, because it makes a lot of noise and light, and can rip a tree in half, and can instantly carbonize a life-form... That is not POWER, the noise you hear is the AIR falling back into the micro sized hole left in the atmosphere as the lightning (BOILED) the moisture (Conductive invisable wire) that it just passed through... that sound is created when the air hits air on the opposing side (also falling in) and harmonically bounces SOUND back away from its source...   

       Like the pendilum balls... drop one at each end at the same time... they both transfer thier energy back to themselves when they strike... and return back up into the air... (Rumbling decaying sound waves) What split the tree was the water in the trees veins/cells/micro-tubes boiling and forcing a hairline crack in the tree, along it's length (to/from the ground)... the outward transfered energy uses this week point to split the tree the rest of the way... and gravity takes over after that...   

       The big CRACK BANG you hear after lightning striking the tree is the tree splitting and dropping... (it is louder than you think)   

       If lightning had POWER worth harnessing... you would see the tree branches launch thousands of feet from the tree, not fall directly to the ground. Even in cement, when lightning struck our sidewalk, it left a 1 foot diameter hole, with molten glass (sand) around it... a grenade has more power... Lightning = Ultra high VOLTS at Nearly ZERO AMPS... (proportionally speaking)
Error_205, May 11 2003

       //lightening is what creates the huge charge difference between the atmosphere and the earth, it isn't the mechanism that discharges it.//   

       If that were true, then heat would also flow from a cold object to a hotter one. It would be the mechanism which creates temperature differences. In short, bologna.   

       //can instantly carbonize a life-form//   

       That requires a lot of energy. So there is a lot of energy in lightning. You are right, though, when you say that lightning is mostly voltage. This doesn't mean the energy can't be used. My dad (whose dad was a professional electrician) says you can compare electricity to water. Amperage is gallons-per-minute, voltage is PSI.   

       The way, then, to get energy out is to capture the 'pressure' (and whatever 'GPM' there is), and have it move a 'waterwheel' that puts out more 'GPM' than 'PSI'. A waterwheel with minimum leverage (so that it must use all of its pressure), but maximum water-throwing.   

       Capacitors would actually be a good way to do this, in spite of the negative comments about them. Ever seen the ShakeLight? You charge up a cap by shaking the magnet back and forth, and it bleeds off its charge through an LED. The light (on max charge) lasts up to 20 minutes. So yes, caps can be used to extract and release energy. The main problem with a solid-state system is making sure the components will stand up to the charges (i.e., get them good lawyers). It'd be more efficient than changing electricity to heat and back again.   

       I might mention (this is from Vernon's anno in the Lightning Power Plant idea) that electrostatic motors can use high-voltage, low amperage electricity. Just hook them up to turn a generator. There's a way to turn PSI into GPM.
galukalock, May 18 2003

       While this probably sounds pretty naive, I am under the impression that there is quite a bit about lightning--the conditions that comprise the precursor to a strike--that isn't understood.
bristolz, May 18 2003

       Does anyone know of a storage medium utilizing an organic medium? Also I had the thought that since lightning is discharged so fast there is not much time for storeage in a conventional battery style. So how about the idea of a large solenoid that when energized could store mechanical energy like weight or a spring or somesuch. Just brainstorming, but let me know if theres anything to these thoughts. Thanks for the time.
rsr, Jun 22 2003

       [Error_205] I forgot to mention something.   

       //Lightning = Ultra high VOLTS at Nearly ZERO AMPS//...//POWER is rated (Overall) in WATTS//   

       Okay. Amps x volts = watts. I've heard that lightning can have a charge of up to 100 million volts. Let's assume half that. 50 million volts x oh, say, .5 amp = 25 million watts. Let's multiply that by 1/1000 second. 25,000 watt-seconds, or enough to run a 100-watt lightbulb for over 4 minutes. That's an average bolt, a very short strike, and a very bright but inefficient bulb. Imagine if we were more liberal in our calculations. Lightning strikes a few thousand times in a thunderstorm, so that's a lot of electricity. The only question is how much you can capture, and how easily.
galukalock, Aug 20 2003

       very interesting subject. the last post I see says to multiply by 1/1000. I'm assuming you mean thats how long the "strike" lasts. Why make the assumption that you can only capture that amount? Actually lightening passing through Zero Point is enough to really float my boat. Just an opinion, but those tidal turbines seem like a more "here and now" kinda deal. Although, I do love to read science fiction. How about stopping light, hooking up a chainsaw motor to it and start the light back up? Just a thought...its all good:)......icepik
icepik, Dec 11 2003

       Nobody here has even hit on the most obvious flaw. There is a huge misconception on how lightning rods work. They are not intended to be struck by lighting. Has anyone ever looked at one? They all have a very sharp point at the end. Objects with sharp points tend to bleed off charge from their points, reducing the voltage difference and weakening the electric field. This is why Van de Graaf generators are round. When a lightning rod weakens the field by bleeding charge, lightning becomes less likely. In effect, sharp rods tend to protect themselves, by their charge emissions, against participating in lightning strikes. Lightning rods are connected to ground with large copper conducting wire in the unlikely event that lightning does strike it, that way it goes directly to ground and not through the building. You could use blunt tipped rods, but the other main point is that there is not much energy in a lightning bolt. E=P/t the time duration is so short that even at a decent power, the amount of energy is small. Converting that to steam would be stupid, since the latent heat of vaporization of converting saturated water to saturated steam uses up most of the energy. You are looking at 20% efficiency at best.
scarecrow, Jan 12 2004

       We all knwo that lightning is teh cause of capacitance between the earth and atmosphere. What if instead of trying ot harness this poor source of static electricity we made it better. Instead of letting air be the dielectric why not construck a structure with metal combs in the air, dielectric, and earth ground. This woudl be charged far more quickly then the air and would be easy to harness the energy produced by it. Just a thought :)
ramasule, Apr 04 2004

       [snarfyguy], If I recall, Tesla created artificial lighting and zapped the earth to create a current in the earth's surface that could be tapped at a distance. He didn't care for wires so much.
zigness, Apr 06 2004

       //See feynman's lectures on physics... you learn that lightening is NOT discharging potential differences....//   

       [johnmeacham] might not have actually READ feynman's lectures... hmmm...
zigness, Apr 06 2004

       //I've heard that lightning can have a charge of up to 100 million volts. Let's assume half that. 50 million volts x oh, say, .5 amp...//   

       Just a correction, lightning currents can range from 100-100,000 amps. It is not uncommon for the total energy of a flash to reach 350 kw-hr according to encyclopedia britannica. This would keep the lightbulb lit for months as opposed to minutes.
x43a, Jun 17 2004

       <smirk> store it n a batacitor </smirk>   

       <waits to see if anyone understands the joke>
DesertFox, Dec 25 2005

       <scratches head>   

       a bat cave converted to a capacitor?
rainbow, Dec 27 2005

       Maybe a more effective way of harnessing the energy would be to use the heat aspect of lightning. Lightning ranges in temperature of 30000 to 50000 degrees F! (((number1ad.com))) would something like ceramic thermocouples (so it could stand the heat) be more efficient? The lightning would be directed to the thermocouple tower via lightning rods that connect to the ground. As the lightning is passing through the cable connected to the ground, the thermocouples are harnessing the heat of it. (((number1ad.com))) Just a thought.
H20isthefuture, Jan 26 2006

       You guys are thinking too hard into this. All you need is the flux capacitor to harness the power.
Jscotty, Jan 27 2006

       Ooo ooo! Does the De Lorean come with the flux capacitator?   

       \\...away from population centers\\ Fiddlesticks! I want one in my back yard.   

       //lightening is what creates the huge charge difference// ... //bologna// _Lightning charges atmosphere_ link shows clearly how a redistribution of charge _within_ a cloud leads to a discharge between the earth and the cloud, thus creating a net charge difference between the earth and the atmosphere. Doesn't the arrival of ions in solar wind also contribute? There's a SF book in which our ancestors harness the earth - atmosphere P.D., using pyramids, of course. Don't remember author or title.   

       I get an average of 139 KwH per lightning bolt, nothing to sneeze at, but hardly great underground pools of molten metal stuff. Still, grain of originality so +
spidermother, Jan 27 2006

       /Lightning ranges in temperature/ - what, the bolt? What exactly has temperature in lightning? The plasma through which it travels? As proposed it looks like you are trying to harness the ohmic heating of the wire as the electricity passes through. I have to think this would be a tiny fraction of the electrical energy.
bungston, Jan 27 2006

       //Ooo ooo! Does the De Lorean come with the flux capacitator?//   

       Hah! Jscotty got it! Batacitor-battery capacitor, fictional device in the RiverWorld series.
DesertFox, Jan 27 2006

       Yeah, but the Flux Capacitator was from Back to The Future.   

       Believe it or not i'v been thinking about this for a while . Here's what i came up with. a high "Q" high-temp superconductor coil tune to about one meghertz about the frequence of lightning ,sunk in highly isolative gas i think it's hydrogen floride. A fine wire connects to ground through the center of the coil acts as a leader for the strike and vaporize after the strike.through transformer and oscillatory action the energy is then store in the coil and can be drawn off by various means.
earfone, Aug 12 2006

       May I anno...   

       I took a g-class model rocket, attached it to a tow missile wire (try to find one now, that was in the eighties) used hydraulic (air switch ignition) and sent it into a pregnant cloud. My wire was anchored in a half full 55 gallon drum of water. When the hair raised on my arms and I 'got that feeling' I let her rip, and lemme tell ya, the barrel was empty when I crawled out of the crow's nest and looked in it. one little bead of melted metal, but the water was almost all evaporated. I didn't get to see the mushroom cloud of steam because I was rendered a little senseless by the shock and awe of the boom and flash happening all at once.   

       I left the physical part of the experiment alone then and went mental. I won't waste time explaining or defending my poor practices. Here is my halfbaked solution to the molten metal part of this.   

       Kansas gets lightning. Kansas has an underground network of saltmine tunnels. Store water in the tunnels, create an above ground containment vessel (or go horizontal?) Send controlled 'probes' into pregnant clouds, make steam (don't tell me that can't be done, I've done it, keep your watts and amps and volts to yourself until you've tickled Thor's balls yourself. :)   

       Could the superheated steam be captured or drive a turbine on the way 'up'/out? Cool, no need to speed up uranium's decay and create waste to boil water. If not, the collected vapor could change state and fall as water through the turbines ready to get hit again.   

       Ah, the pesky corrosion problem of salt water in turbines. Think electrolite if you don't like this idea, hmm?   

       Wild minds (c'mon throw me a bone) are a terrible thing to waste on playing devils advocate. (even if it is a fish bone!) I can get any curly haired effete syncophat on a street corner to tell me why these ideas won't work, how about focusing on a part that makes sense to you and exploring it with passion?   

       With that i will mention that I have other ideas, and arrogant as I may seem I am open to exploring them with people who are 'smarter, than me
lojo, Nov 17 2006

       Welcome [lojo]! We've been waiting for you.
bungston, Nov 17 2006

       Thanks for the welcome :)
lojo, Nov 18 2006

       I'll bisquit this one, I'm all for high-voltage
Ozzy, Nov 20 2006

       put the tungsten in a block of ice as the lightning heats the tungsten the ice closest to the core would vaporize you would have to keep the rest of the block frozen useing a hydrogen cooling system only the melted ice around the tungsten would steam then you just keep adding water useing the coldest possible water would keep the tungsten from melting and remember size is important or let the tungsten heat an antifreeze cooling system and let the coolent heat the water and turn it into steam and what if you just use hydrogen to cool the tungsten could it get hot enough to plasma the hydrogen then you wouldnt need the tungsten at all but realy the reason for catching and harnessing lightning is to use the energy that it contains so if your going to put lightning in a box make sure the box is stronger then the monster with in
bushy, Aug 06 2007

       There is a key with a little dot under it, right beneath your L key, [bushy]. Throw a few of those dots in there. They're kind of like pepper. They make it better.
bungston, Aug 06 2007

       Take a big old dose of lightning, distribute it judiciously, yeah... IT FREAKING captures, and can deliver trickles.   

       Salt dammit, salt. I need new chambers or someone to understand salt. My hair is fried, my mind is close behind... I will get this thing.   

       energy wiki anyone?
lojo, Feb 18 2008

       Damnit everyone it still faces the same problem of all halfbaked lightning power systems: How do you make lightning choose a high resistance circuit (anything that is going to get hot or do work when you run current through it) when it can choose another lower resistance "path to ground". When a wire is used there is nothing to prevent the lightning from using the wire for the first part of the journey and then simply sortcutting to earth when it gets near the ground.   

       Example: Person hit by lightning does not get vaporized. Why? Because that would take to much work. Lightning is powerfull but REALLY LAZY.   

       {Anybody who has worked with spark plug wires knows that high voltage will do almost anything to avoid doing the work that you need it to do.}
WcW, Feb 18 2008

       Lightening is a sudden movement of electrons across a gap. The potential difference between the ground and the build up of electrons in the atmosphere gradually is built until the difference is so great the gap is no longer wide enough to prevent the discharge.   

       When you see lighteneing, you are really seeing the enegy released by the discharge as the electrons jump from the area above the ground that held the positive charged ions.   

       It has been proven that these electrons can be coaxed down a little at a time...remember Ben Franklin's kite experiment proving that lightening was electricity?   

       Notice that when lightning strikes a lightning rod, the rod is not destroyed. It remains and attracts more strikes, guiding the electrons to ground safely. The lightning rod is sharpened to a fine point, which is designed to generate a path and start the discharge. Once enough heat is generated in the air, the electrons obediently race down that plasma path...you can show that electrons will flow through a flame easier than through air.   

       Thus, if lightning were to be captured, it makes sens to do it the slow and controlled way, using towers tipped with lightning rods and guiding the electron potential to a storage bank in some more controlled method preventing the sudden, explosive discharge.   

       I saw a documentary on lightning recearch that demonstrated this on a smaller scale. For reasons I have forgotten, it was deemed too dangerous and impractical.
Blisterbob, Feb 18 2008

       JBarakatis, I read your post and I know with every fiber of my soul that you have some creamy, doughy halfbaked schemes. Or maybe one big one. If you can disinvest your ego enough to post it without being hurt when people kick it around, I would like to read it. Post a new idea and call it high frequency induction. If you are proposing to get lightning's cloudy mom to show up and do some useful work instead of cranking out her scary and destructive babies, I am all for it.
bungston, Oct 06 2008

       I smell a new brand of physics.
Voice, Oct 06 2008

       is that what that is ? very.... organic... aroma.
FlyingToaster, Oct 07 2008

       JBarakitis, I apologize for prematurely declairing your idea to be a new brand of physics. Completely unworkable, but not new physics.
Voice, Oct 08 2008

       I just found about a really cool site that monitors lightning strikes in realtime <link>
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 28 2014

       The tungsten will never absorb any more than a tiny fraction of the energy because it is not, and cannot be, the electrostatic sink for the charge in the atmosphere. Unless your tungsten cube acquires massive capacitance by some as yet undiscovered means it will only absorb as much energy as is indicated by its action conducting to the capacitance of the ground. Also I bemoan the pitiful condition of our science education that this idea received so many buns.
WcW, Jul 28 2014

       So, hypothetically...   

       Run a (well) insulated cable up into the upper atmosphere (how, take your pick, I'd lean towards a blimp), with the lower end attached to a serious heavy duty capacitor bank. As the charge is built between the thunderhead and the ground, it's also built up across your capacitor. Switch the wire to a new capacitor bank, and switch the charged bank to discharge at a lower voltage/higher amperage (charge pump configuration, or other DC/DC or DC/AC voltage conversion as appropriate).   

       I'm not enough of an electrical guy to say why this won't work, so feel free to point out the problems, even if they're just "you can't build the capacitor heavy enough". I would think, however, since you're not letting it get to the point where the lightning actually occurs, you could pull a steady stream of lower voltage charges.
MechE, Jul 28 2014

       Again the struggle is with the difference between static charges, which can generate current only when there is an imbalance of charge and sources of current, or circuits, which have a motive action other than charge alone. When lightning strikes it only produces current (moves electrons) to the extent that the land mass that it is striking can accept them. With a football field sized capacitor you could capture a substantial fraction of the potential energy from positive strikes and possibly construct negative strikes. With a conductive array you might be able to produce a small static discharge power supply, as is observed over long runs of wire such as telegraphs while also dissipating local lightning somewhat. All attempts to use resistance (heating) to capture static electricity will fail since the action of insulation (resistance) is completely counterproductive and can only serve to reduce your overall yield.   

       Static to static charge coupling, or static static charge cascade generation would be terrifically inefficient in our atmosphere as compared with applying wind energy which is the bulk source of the static charge in the first place. It might have more application on another planet.
WcW, Jul 28 2014


       " It might have more application on another planet "
normzone, Jul 28 2014

       Might be tricky to make all the little harnesses.   

       But seriously, there ain't that much power in lightning, probably easier to run a line from the moon, with a big wind-turbine on it into the atmosphere, the moon doing a handy 700mph or so relative to the surface of the Earth, then microwave the power down to a base station.
not_morrison_rm, Jul 29 2014

       The path is the harness.   

       What is needed is an artificial ground, less resistant than the actuate ground, to fix the landing point. Maybe, some new nano-material with an enormous surface area full of electron holes.   

       Make the lightning head for it but on the way bleed of energy so the lightning never reaches the target. A mirage ground path.
wjt, Aug 01 2014


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