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Lightning Power Plant

Lightening hits rod attached to power grid
  (+11, -3)(+11, -3)
(+11, -3)
  [vote for,

Make a huge tower connected to a huge capacitor and on to the power grid... Every time it gets hit we get tons of energy. A typical lightning bolt contains 1 Billion Volts and contains between 10,000 to 200,000 amperes of current. And 1 strike could power a 100 watt light bulb for 3 months. If a lot of these generators could be constructed it wouldn't cost too much and we would have our power problems solved.
timbong, Aug 18 2001

(?) This is [not] what PeterSealy's thinking of. http://www.halfbake...20relay_20satellite
Not the idea itself, but Rods Tiger's April 5 annotation. [PotatoStew, Aug 18 2001, last modified Oct 17 2004]

Power of lightning http://www.weatherw...lightningpower.html
And a discussion of capturing it. Trouvere's comment seems about right - the energy available as electricity at the bottom of lightning is estimated at 1/100-1/1000 of the overall energy. With the 10 lightning strokes hitting a square kilometer per year, you could power one lightbulb for a couple of days - at the cost of having a tower and a gigantic capacitor in your backyard. [jutta, Aug 18 2001]

Poly-CO2 http://www.halfbakery.com/idea/Poly-CO2
Something to make vacuum balloons out of [Vernon, Aug 18 2001, last modified Oct 17 2004]

Balloon stuff http://www.halfbake...Hot_20Helium_20Ship
Among other things, how balloons work, including vacuum balloons. [Vernon, Aug 18 2001, last modified Oct 17 2004]

IKECE http://www.halfbakery.com/idea/IKECE
Among other things, corona discharge stuff. [Vernon, Aug 18 2001, last modified Oct 17 2004]

Space elevator - could be used as cloud charge harvester as well! http://www.sciencen...g/20021005/bob9.asp
[bungston, Oct 06 2004, last modified Oct 17 2004]

In the baking? http://pesn.com/200...ingstone_Lightning/
Someone who believes it can be done [pashute, May 28 2009]

Not too much power http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightning
500 MJ is only 138 kW/Hr not much... and definitlely less than previous link's claim. [pashute, May 28 2009]


       Welcome back, Peter!
beauxeault, Aug 18 2001

       <snarky comment no longer applicable>I suppose if you stored hydrogen at ambient air pressure it would lighten the power plant a bit, but you'll never get it to fly. [addendum: Good on ya for correcting the spelling in the title, timbong.]
Dog Ed, Aug 19 2001, last modified Aug 21 2001

       PeterSealy: I couldn't find any links pertaining to anyone who did it, do you know of any?
timbong, Aug 19 2001

       Is it theoretically possible to make a capacitor that could handle a lightning strike?
PotatoStew, Aug 19 2001

       I spent a sizeable portion of the afternoon trying to find out if this were at all feasible. It has been discussed at length in sci.physics, and all the responses were negative - however, half said that no capacitor could cope with the energy, and half said that the lightning strike dissipates so much energy in heat, light and radio waves that there's not enough left to be worth collecting. Well. If anyone can find anything more useful, please post it, and I'll delete this non-response of mine.
Trouvere, Aug 19 2001

       PeterSealy's memory is correct. There was a whole halfbakery idea about this, not just an annotation. The author deleted it after everybody pretty much agreed that it's pointless.
jutta, Aug 19 2001

       UnaBubba--I done this oncet myself: "46.58 grams of matter + antimatter would yield 1 megaton of energy", I wrote. Gads. And unlike jutta's excellent C cgi script this other BB was uneditable so I had to make a seperate post to repair the damage.
Dog Ed, Aug 20 2001

       1 bolt of lightening can power a 100 watt bulb for 3 months according to timbong. How many lightbulbs do you think there are in the UK not to mention kettles, computers etc. It would probobly need to strike more than 100 towers every hour to power the UK for an hour.   

       P.S. i'm not too good at electronics so my calculations are probobly wrong. Anyone want to fix them?
Fireraven, Aug 29 2001

       Problem with lightning is the speed that it happens. So much energy in a tiny amount of time....it just fries/melts/destroys whatever tries to conduct it. Think of it this way: normal power sources is like taking a sip of water from a garden hose...lightning power supply is like trying to take a sip of water from Niagra falls. But I have heard an idea of how to defeat the overwhelming blast of energy... Say you had a huge PVC pipe or something that you could channel all of Niagra falls into (use your imagination..)...now reduce the overwhelming blast of water by dividing the water into 100 smaller pipes from the main one. And then 100 pipes on each of those. (that crazy octopus comes to mind..) Eventually, when you take one pipe, it will have the pressure of the garden hose, and not all of the falls. So take this idea and substitute niagra falls for lightning, pipes for conductive material, and water for electricity. But when you build all this stuff, you need to think about the economics of doing so and I think THAt is precisely why we haven't done it yet.
blaah, Sep 23 2001

       I confess to giving this notion some serious thought a fair number of years ago. I concluded that if you really want to collect lightning energy, you need to go to the clouds, because more than 90% of all strikes are cloud-to-cloud.   

       Obviously, you also need a special vehicle. I chose a dirigible design. NOT to be inflated with hydrogen, of course! In fact, I considered vacuum-balloon technology, and spent some time looking for a suitable material from which to construct vacuum balloons. (More on that elsewhere on the Halfbakery.)   

       Part of the reason for wanting a vacuum balloon is that the hull has to be very tough, and you NEED a tough hull to go into thunderheads to collect lightning bolts!   

       The chosen dirigible shape is slightly modified, with an opening in the front and rear, and a lengthwise channel connecting them. This channel must be filled with ionized air (see the IKECE post for how to do that). UV lasers are then used to create ionized pathways from the front and rear of the dirigible to the (+) and (-) target zones within the clouds. Lightning WILL flow!   

       Parallel to the channel, surrounding the channel within the dirigible, are a number of wires. (Each wire makes a complete loop by following the hull). The wires are superconducting. Now, it happens that there is quite a variety of superconducting materials. Many of them lose their superconductivity in the presence of intense magnetic fields, and some can withstand quite large magnetic fields. For this scenario, we want a balance here.   

       When a lightning bolt flashes down the channel, an expanding wave of electromagnetic energy (a very intense magnetic field) expands away from the bolt. This wave will cross all those superconducting wires, cause them to lose their superconductivity TEMPORARILY, and induce a significant flow of current. As soon as the flash is over, the magetic field is gone, and the superconductivity is restored. (Yes, I know that each of the wires will now be surrounded by a magnetic field. That's why I said we need to use a balanced sort of superconductor; it can withstand SOME magnetism -- that of the neighboring wires.)   

       We have now captured the energy of the lightning bolt via the same process that a "transformer" works -- and transformers normally do their work at better than 95% efficiency. So capture a bunch of lightning bolts, drive back down to the ground, transfer the energy from the dirigible to some intermediate storage gadget that feeds it into the power grid, and fly the dirigible back up to collect more.
Vernon, Sep 24 2001

       seems vernon has put a lot of thought into this, is their any way to e-mail people with extra ideas on this point? One issue is placing a balloon in the right time when lightning is in the air, you would need landing fields for the balloons. But if the lightning is over a city, and you use Balloons, would the extra cloud to cloud lightning produce extra lightning that would fall to earth, hitting people, causing fire, and damage?
franklyspeaking, Feb 26 2002

       Click on the name at the bottom of the annotation to see one's profile. If there's an email address in there, you can email them.
StarChaser, Feb 26 2002

       To get usable power from lightning storms, you must prevent the lightning strike from occuring. Electrons are building in the clouds increasing the potential energy all the time until the lightning strikes. This is the time to get the energy. Once the lightning strike occurs the available potential energy is momentarily reduced to a voltage which is less than the dielectric strength of the air between the two clouds or the cloud and the ground. This air gap is in effect a large natural capacitor. So we don't need to build an impractical capacitor, since the capactor needed to capture the energy of a thunderstorm has already been provided by nature. Only when the breakdown voltage of this natural "self healing" capacitor is exceeded do we have a lightning strike. SOLUTION: Ballons with an aluminized skin floated into different locations of the storm, secured to the ground with conductive cables. Since the potential energy in the opposing clouds is d.c. until a lightning strike occurs, power may be simply tapped from the two opposing ballon cables by using an auto-polarity d.c to d.c converter designed to handle an input voltage of say 5-10,000 volts. The output of the converter may be made to be 60hz sine wave AC (synchronized to and fed into a power grid) or low voltage d.c to charge batteries. In the event that the atmospheric voltage starts to increase above the maximum input of the converter, the two cables from the balloons are loaded through power resistors or shunted together, regulating the input voltage to the converter below its limit and well below the voltage required for any lightning strike. This method also eliminates losses due to radiation of energy in RF, IR and visible wavelengths -- providing very large amounts of harnessable power without the need to harness the lightning bolt itself. You also can get a lot more of the energy that is available since the lightining strike only discahrges the cloud until the voltage is too low to sustain continuation of the arc of lightning. You also get a zone of safety on the ground since the likely hood of lightning strikes in the immediate area of the balloons would be reduced to substantial extent. Golf courses would be great places to install these.
waynegnarlie, Mar 09 2002

       waynegnarlie, that's pretty good. Might I mention that there are such things as "electrostatic motors" that can directly use high voltage DC. The very first electric motor ever built, in fact, was an electrostatic type by Ben Franklin.   

       One of these motors generates very little power, but if enough of them were connected to the same axle, and powered by your cloud balloon cables, we might see a significant total. (Might turn a more ordinary generator with that mechanical output...)
Vernon, Mar 10 2002

       (Just wanted to thank you guys. These theories gave me a topic for a high school earth science report. Wish I could say some of those ideas were a bit closer to my hat, though....oh well, no physics major for me. 8-) )
Jakat, Sep 20 2002

       One of the ways to ground the electrical energy of a thundercloud is to fire a rocket trailing a wire into the cloud.   

       I remember seeing something sbout this being done from the hills around Paris. I don't believe that any energy was stored from the activity but that the clouds were just earthed to prevent any lightning from striking the city. [spent ten minutes looking and connot find a link. Sorry]
st3f, Sep 20 2002

       I just scanned through most of the comments and I didn't see any mention of rockets! Quite often metiorologists send a rocket into a storm cloud with a wire attached. The lightening then comes to you, and you can study lightning. But to be honest though there must be easier ways of harnessing energy?
An idea I had a while ago was square miles of solar power pannels either floating in space, or positioned on the moon. Maintenance would be hard though, and judging from the surface of the moon I think they'd get dammaged.
I am supprised though that geothermal energy hasn't taken off more. I guess nuclear will be the next big thing if they ever get it sorted out and stop faking safety records!
aphidman, Sep 20 2002

       From what I understand, a lightning strike is in the same family as things like corona discharges, right? I dunno, I forget which terminology refers to which things, but I know that high voltage electricity will flow more readily between two pointed objects than flat surfaces, which is why lightning strikes sharp, tall points instead of flat open spaces. And if you have say a van de graaff generator and hold a pointed object near it (which I have done with a homemade one), you can transfer the high voltage charge relatively long distances without an arc, but if you put two flat surfaces near each other, it has to create an explosive arc in order to travel between them. Couldn't we then build giant towers with sharp points on top to bleed to charge out of the atmosphere slowly?
Skullhead, Oct 19 2002

       In Colorado Springs Colorado almost 100 years ago this was done by a man from Belgrade .   

       Yes, Tesla .   

       His experiments were boxed up and shipped off, the ppl likened him to frankenstein .   

       In fact there lies great humor .   

       Hehe ...   

       His equipment was used by Hollywood for the Frankenstein movies .   

       Tesla held many patents , and some were stolen from him .   

       He worked with Alexander Graham Bell in the early days of the phone .   

       He was a rival to marconi and ended up getting the patent for radio after his death .   

       He was the first to light the world's fair .   

       Some of his less known inventions are in use by the Navy to this day .   

       He had a 128 ft. tall tower with a 30 inch copper ball and he let the lightning hit it and run to ground much like lightning rods have done for some time .   

       A secret though ... he knew the frequency of lightning, this knowledge is somewhat known by the ppl that now shoot rockets with trailers into clouds to trigger lightning strikes for research .   

       He took HUGE coils of wire and wrapped them around the tower main ground and thus inacted a type of transformer .   

       Being high in the mountains put him sometimes closer to the clouds .   

       This is nothing new, and it is amusing no one has recreated it .   

       I would very much like to .   

       If you get a chance read "Man out of Time" by Margaret Cheney . The words and pictures are quit illuminating .   

       Ex-MislTech Tech Support Guantanamo Bay Cuba
Ex-MIslTech, Nov 04 2002

       Crumbs ,   

       Your dead right about him, brilliant, but definitely eccentric , and scattered .   

       It would be truly awesome to see someone take his work and some innovation and make it happen .   

       I would surely love to be a part of that project .   


       Tech Support   

       Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Ex-MIslTech, Nov 06 2002

       Thanks for the numbers and the links, Ex-M?? Tech in Guantanamo Bay. I agree with waynegnarlie that the energy needs to be captured before clouds emit lightning flashes and waste a great deal of the power they have built up. I also think that you might be able to disharge the power before it gets to be so large that it is too difficult to manage by building a tower (with a huge conductor/superconductor leading down to your power grid) or floating a balloon (suspending a conductor) that is high enough to minimize the dielectric which is normally the air between the cloud and the Earth's surface. There would then be less of a gap for the spark to jump, so less voltage would be required in order to discharge the energy build up. Therefore, the cloud would discharge before it had built up as mighty a blast as usual, and so a more manageable, lower power pulse would be input into the power grid rather than causing an overwhelming system meltdown.   

       On another note, I read an article by a lightning researcher at Texas A and M University that stated that lightning strikes occurred 70% more often around metropolitan areas than around rural areas.   


       They think it's due to the heat build up in cities. This is convenient for lightning-harnessing purposes since cities are where most electric power is needed and wouldn't require as long transmission lines to be run.
BugZapper, Nov 15 2002

       Bungston, 100,000 feet divided by 5,280 feet per mile = 18.9 miles of copper wire. Just guessing but that length of copper wire would probably pull itself in two under it's own weight and drop into the ocean. But if some kind of conductive wire could be made strong enough to hold itself together that would make your idea more feasible. Wonder how wind would effect it?   

       On the other hand, for a tower to reach 100,000 feet into the air would require a structure roughly 100 times the height of the Empire State Building since it is around 1000 feet tall. Maybe we should pussyfoot around and just try to build a tower 5 to 10 times higher at about 5,000 to 10,000 feet tall. To help pay for the construction costs we could rent it out to mountain-climbing skydivers or extreme bungee jumpers. Weeeeee!!!!!!
BugZapper, Nov 20 2002

       1. Find disused golf course.
2. On first hole, float balloon into clouds with mylar ribbons, attached to ground by wire.
3. Float cousin balloon on 9th hole.
4. Connect wires from two balloons onto little light bulb on 4th hole.
5. If there is a reasonable charge difference, the bulb will lightup. If a lot, the bulb will blow up. Bring bigger bulbs. If lightning comes down one of the wires, it will probably burn thru to ground before reaching you at the 4th hole.
6. Cost: 2 Big helium balloons: $20. Mylar: $5. Wire$10. Bulb $2. HTML link to video clip of flickering bulb: priceless.
bungston, May 21 2003

       Ha! This is Baked! Per a program called "KAPOW! Superhero Science" on the Discovery Channel, a group of scientists routinely fire wire0trailing rockets into thunderclouds, to induce lightning strikes back to the launch tower, which are then channeled into the local power grid.   

       The principle point is to test the ability of the power grid to survive lightning strikes. But they mentioned that the average lightning strike provides just enough energy to power a 60W for 6 minutes.
DrCurry, Jun 29 2003

       Maybe it isn't the energy of the lightning itself that matters as much as the reaction it could generate. Chew on this one... Channel that power into a chamber filled with liquid hydrogen, not for combustion, but for fusion. Have a short spark jump for maximum concentration and avoidance of energy loss. Have the spark occur in the presence of ordinary hydrogen, not deuterium or tritium. If either of those began fusion, that'd be the end of the power station, most likely. Regular hydrogen has enough naturally occuring isotopes to make some fusion possible, but not sustainable fusion. Therefore, the liquid hydrogen(better than gas because it's more dense, and should fuse more readily if kept from boiling by pressure)would fuse some hydrogen with each lightning strike, but a fusion meltdown would likely never occur. Most likely, each strike would create a temporary fusion reaction, which would fizzle fairly quickly, but not before generating more energy than the lightning bolt.   

Darknight, Jun 08 2004

       I really like the concept of harnessing the energy before it results in a lightning strike.   

       So you have 2 balloons approx 1000 yards from each other at 20000 feet or so.   

       Inbetween them you have a large tower (200-500ft or so should do the trick depending on elevation) with a laser pointing from the top towards the clouds so that if lightning were to strike, the best path would be the laser beam instead of the balloons. (If someone could due the math on that would be appriciated. Comparison of resistance of air, laser beam, and tether wire (twisted steel line? not sure what standard tether wire is made of))   

       The 2 tethered balloons would be connected to a ceramic (just in case) capacitor bank (must have extreme means of cooling, phase changing, nitrogen, or otherwise.. just in case) to store the energy during times of peak atmospheric activity. Then slowly distributed into the power network.   

       I suggest that the balloon itself be made of a non-conductive buckytube fabric. Expensive, at the moment at least.. But highly effective. The tether could also be a stranded iron or steel buckytubes which should (theoretically at leasT) be 10x stronger than anything else ont he market, and more heat resistant aswell. (Once comparison of resistance is done, you can choose a material which would be more restitive than the laser)   

       Defusing the energy in the atmosphere should keep energy build up to a minimum, decreasing the chance of a strike. Meanwhile, if there is a strike it's directed towards a tower where it can be grounded. I'm not however looking to totally do away with oil and nuclear depedance. just give people a little more time (before we run out of oil) to harness the casmir effect (or some other unlimited limited energy source)   

       I still however have some unanswered questions about lightning. Many people say that lightning can be hotter than the sun (upwards of 8500-28000K). If this is true, then how do towers and sky scrapers withstand tens... hundreds of lightning strikes each year? Temps that high should incinerate the structure.   

       My neighbor's house was struck by lightning a few years back. He may still have the lightning rod that was struck, if so ill have to get my hands on it for analysis.
senseless, Aug 21 2005

       Construct a tower that has a 1000 paths equal paths for the lightning to travel down. Different materials would be used to control the speed at which the electricity flows. The energy could then be stored and used accordingly. you could have a large series of breakers to trip and send the energy down a different path until that next breaker trips and so forth down the line.
Antegrity, Aug 22 2005

       In the late 80's (when I was a teen) there were various articles in various scientific magazines as well as in some pop science magazines, about lightning power harnessing, all concluding that it usually has a very small amount of power, released very quickly in a very small and confined area, hence getting its grand attention, but not actually being of substance. See link to wikipedia and my remark.
pashute, May 28 2009


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