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Imagine you have two choices. You can either...

Do nothing, or... 

Do something simple that has a 1% chance of helping billions of low income people live substantially better lives, but it comes with a 99% chance that the only outcome is your own permanent embarrassment. 

Here I'm talking about the kind of embarrassment that follows you around forever. If you have a Wikipedia page, your embarrassment will end up on it. Every time you go to a party, someone will bring it up. When your obituary is written, it will be mentioned. Your credibility will forever be defined by this embarrassment.

Do you take that 1% chance?

This isn't a thought experiment. I'm dealing with that decision right now. Luckily for the world (maybe), I don't feel embarrassment like normal people. So I'm all in for the 1% chance of helping the world. I live for this sort of thing.

Here's my story.

About a decade ago I got an email from an engineer/inventor who claimed he could make electricity out of air. It had something to do with harvesting ions or some such blah, blah, blah. I was interested because I have a nerdy curiosity about green energy projects, but I assumed that this would be like most ideas in that realm and it wouldn't pan out.

The inventor formed a tiny company and the company stayed in touch with me by email as they filed their patents and worked on their prototypes. Patents were granted. Bigger and better prototypes were built. I've seen their videos of the prototypes powering household appliances.

If the videos are to be believed, the prototypes are harvesting useful amounts of electricity directly from the atmosphere, day or night, rain or shine. What the company doesn't yet know is how well it scales up, and whether or not normal engineering improvements in the process can make this economically feasible. The company thinks the odds are good.

If it scales up, and proves to be economical, the world will be transformed.

I like to think my bullshit filter is better than average. After ten years of following this project, I have concluded that the people are real, the patents are real, and the prototype does create electricity from the atmosphere. I could be wrong, so you should be skeptical. And I'm encouraged by the fact that the company doesn't claim to know it can scale up; they are looking for funds to find out.

And just to be super-clear, things that are in the "too good to be true" category turn out to be bullshit 99% of the time. That's our context.

But I'm going to take the 99% chance of embarrassing myself along with the 1% chance of helping the world by giving some attention to this technology.

I give you the company's crowd funding link.

I don't have a financial interest in the company.

The company has offered to fly me out to their tiny field laboratory in some godforsaken Florida cow field to see the prototype myself. I said they should spend their money showing it to atmospheric physicists (to further validate the potential) or investors in the green energy field.

If you are one of those types, I can put you in touch with the company. Depending on your credentials, I might even pay for your trip to see it. Contact me at dilbertcartoonist@gmail.com if you're interested.

Here are the patent links:

Patent 1

Patent 2

Patent 3

[Update: Read all of the comments before forming an opinion. And keep in mind that this is in the class of things that are bullshit 99% of the time.]

[Update 2: I'll forward to the company for response any simply-stated question you have about the technology or the economics of scaling up.]

[Update 3: And please stop categorizing me as gung-ho for an idea I have described as being in the class of things that are 99% likely to be bullshit. It's going to be hard enough to keep "Cartoonist involved in scam" off my Wikipedia page.]

[Update 3: For some reason there are comments I can see on my CMS that aren't getting posted. If you put a phone number in your comment, that might be why. Try an email address. The comments getting omitted include an alleged eyewitness to the prototype. And there are a few comments I can't comment on because my CMS doesn't work. -- Scott]


--------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

This book explains why I do things like this

 



 

 

 

 
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0 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2014
@d4n: "And chuck.milner, here is why you care if it scales up. Imagine making a nuclear power plant to power your fridge. It would cost millions of dollars and never breakeven. But it scales, so you can build a bigger nuke for 10 x that price and power 1,000,000 fridges you have something."

That is an example of something that scales up well but doesn't scale down well. So not related to the question of whether this technology scales up well.

"If this can only generate 1000 watts an hour per square mile well it depends on how much it costs,, doesn't it? If it costs a couple of hundred bucks, then fine, but if it costs 200k it is not so useful, is it? "

That is not exactly a question of scale either (ignoring the fact that "watts per hour" is nonsense). The question of scaling up isn't "how much does it cost per watt?". The question is if you make it bigger, how does the power production increase? Linearly? Less than that? If less, how much less? This, combined with the cost information, determines the largest commercially viable scale. For example, it may produce 100 Watts at a 1 cubic meter size, but only 200 Watts at 10 cubic meters. In that case, it doesn't scale up very well. However, milner's point is that even if it doesn't scale up it could be useful. But it sounds like it probably isn't useful at any scale.

@Scott: "Maybe it's me, but I think the response to "Look at me power this light bulb" isn't "It can't, because math." It either works in the lab or it doesn't."

Right, the response is "release your data so other scientists can replicate your results". If they won't do that, and the only evidence is a video, then I would say "it can't work because math" is a better response than "it works because look at their video", though the best response is "who knows if this can work, so no you can't have my money".
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 28, 2014
[I'm not a scientist, so I will ask a layperson's question. Is that calculation for all the energy of this type on the planet, or the energy one could get from one antenna? Would a second antenna next to the first double the energy output or does the one antenna somehow suck all the energy out of the entire county before the other can get some? -- Scott]

The 50 MW would be the maximum clear weather power output. It would require an electrode in the ionosphere. Additional "receivers" would not generate additional power. You could almost double the output of a given receiver by putting a second receiver near it but if you put receivers over the whole globe then the max total would be in the neighborhood of 50 MW.

Now if you wanted to include thunderstorms then the potential would rise to about 100 GW but then you would need your apparatus to chase storms and to have some out of this world capacitors. (Literally)

[Maybe it's me, but I think the response to "Look at me power this light bulb" isn't "It can't, because math." It either works in the lab or it doesn't. If it does, the second question is why-the-hell it works because it shouldn't. -- Scott]
 
 
May 27, 2014
If the voltage stored on those capacitors (not sure why they would not be environmentally friendly) is in the range of 150kV, how many ion collectors would you need to reach Megawatts? Enough to collect only 7A. If you had a field of 100 poles arranged in a 10 x 10 square, with 100ft spacing, could it generate megawatts? I'd like to see.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 27, 2014
These two posts caught my eye:

Here is my back of the envelope math. Please feel free to make fun of it.

1 Coloumb (C) = 6.241E18 electrons
1 Ampere (A) = 1 C / 1 second or just 1 C/s

Tropospheric ion density from sketchy source on internet: 1000 ions per cc (i.e., cubic centimeters)

Sidenote: If we could get it from the ionosphere some 300km above the Earth's surface it would be more like 1E6 ions per cc, but that wouldn't really help anyway.

So. How much volume of air is needed just to get 1C of electrons? (Again if you believe sketchy data)
6.241E18 electrons / 1000 electrons per cc = 6.241E15 cc or if you prefer Liters, 6.241E12 L

Just to get 1A of current, you need to extract every free ion from 6.241E12 Liters of air every second!! (yes, I know, variances in atmospheric pressure, etc. ,etc.)

This is why they are using GIANT capacitors (which are not so environmentally friendly).

******* OK, that's 6.241 cubic kilometers of air every second just for 1 Amp of current.

And they want to scale for megawatts? That's probably thousands of amps.

--------------


Total world power consumption per year: 144,000 Terawatthours (from Wikipedia)
Total power dissipated in lightning strikes worldwide per year: 170 TWH (from Uppsala University)

So if ALL of the energy in lightning (think of it as the ionic energy in the atmosphere already handily packaged for you) were harnessed it would account for only 0.1% of the world's 'needs'. If we assume the efficiency of the process (if it were to work at all) would probably be low, and the distribution of the energy in the atmosphere is diffused worldwide, not just where we need it, and we assume that the net efficiency of those two factors is also 0.1% (just a presumably very generous guess),

****** then the overall potential power supplied by the process in question would be 0.0001% of the world's needs.
 
 
May 27, 2014
I really don't understand all these vitriolic remarks. What part of this technology is so hard to understand? That there is an enormous amount of ionic energy in the air? Someone listed the amount of energy that is dissipated in yearly lightning strikes. While it is a large number, it doesn't even come close to the actual amount of energy that is available in the air. Also, nowhere does the company profess to be able to solve all the world's energy needs. They have powered small appliances and devices by charging up some capacitors by simply hanging some carbon strands in the air. The crowd funding step appears to be focused on scaling the measurements to see how much power they can generate. So what else is hard to believe? That if it is so simple, why hasn't anyone done it before? Why didn't you stick a carbon fiber 100 ft up in the air and measure the power if it is so simple?

I'm like Scott. It produces energy on a small scale. I am SUPER interested to see what it can do on a grand scale. Maybe it won't work. But if it does, even in enabling the storage of megawatts, wouldn't it be a neat thing to say you were a part of? And just think of all the possibilities...
 
 
May 27, 2014
The President worked for ten years as a dental hygienist before getting into the power business.

She has an AAS in Dental Technology. (Maybe - actually, she may have just taken some courses in the program at Pensacola JC)

Look up Lisa McCowen on LinkedIn.

Good luck.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 27, 2014
I think the "solar roadway" guys have a much better chance at making something useful.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/solar-roadways
 
 
May 27, 2014
I have one simple question that needs to be answered before they have any real credibility. They have been operating a test facility for years so they almost certainly have data on power collection.

"How much power per year has their test system produced?"

Until they answer that question in a straightforward manner this is 100% a scam.

Along with the significant red flags that others have raised I also question the use of crowd funding. If this idea really had strong economic potential they would be looking for investors who would take an equity stake. Crowd funding works in a non-scammy way for the production of products that can be pre-sold to the donors. In this case people are donating for hope (and some really ugly plaques). In this case, in the non-zero probability that this does actually work, the "inventors" will collect all the profits. In almost certain case that it doesn't work, they still get to keep whatever they pocket from the donations.
 
 
May 27, 2014
I'll try this one more time.
Scott - this is absolutely a real thing - they are drawing electrical current from the atmosphere, using a phenomenon that is well known, and relatively well understood.
But that does not mean it is a good idea. To me the definition of a good idea is a matter of relativity. How does this idea compare with other ideas? First of all it does in fact work - which makes it better than most ideas.
But there are many-many other ideas that are much more practical, efficient, safe, and dependable than this idea. I will name a few.

Photovoltaic cells - about 100x more efficient on a Watt/area basis.
Ground source heat pumps - about 30x more efficient
Wind turbines - likely more efficient even in very calm places.
Biomass production - about 50x more efficient
Biogas capture - much more scalable.

You like to play with probabilities to make your point. Well I refute your 99% BS figure. This idea is 100% real. It is also a 99.999% poor idea. Not because it isn't real - but because it is essentially a useless toy.

That said - these things would be most efficient in the high arctic where atmospheric ionization is the highest - solar ionization is concentrated their by the Earth's magnetic field, the atmosphere is slightly thicker, and ionic flux is less.
 
 
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 27, 2014
Scott, even if the prototypes are real, this is at best a high-school science experiment.

Everyone is trying to come up with new ways of generating and of storing power. Any new invention in the field would have to break WAY more barriers before being taking seriously than this video has.

If he were really on to something, he would be working with a university somewhere to make it happen, not trying to draw funding on Indiegogo. Everything about this site is designed in a way to impress non-scientific people. The responses that have popped up in my inbox, but disappeared when I came back to this site, shows people who are talented at the art of writing a lot of big, scientific-sounding words, but saying very little. And, unfortunately, they're reading through all the comments on this blog, and using the experience to hone their technique. They'll try again in 3 years, after the fuss has died down, and their scam will be more convincing because of what they learned on this site.

Ions are well-understood by scientists. This campaign makes them seem mysterious and unexplored. Their solution is money. Scam. The solution isn't money ... the solution is a physics book. If they were serious, they would take a more academic approach with this. Our society already has a way to make people like this successful, if their idea has merit. That is, until power-players like the oil industry gets involved.

Scott, you have to protect your brand ... your name. Associating yourself with these guys in any way does serious damage to the thing that makes you valuable. If these guys were legit, they'd have Elon Musk on board in 20 seconds. That's why they aren't pursing Elon Musk or a university, or any of the other obvious pathways to success that exist for this sort of thing.
 
 
May 27, 2014
This is very useful information shared here. I am really thankful for this. <a href=http://www.99th.co.in >99th.co.in</a>
 
 
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 27, 2014
I hate to say it, but us humans have to stop thinking in terms of more , more and more; what's going to happen to Earth then our human tsunami population fires up all it's electronics in the year 2025?

Right, fire ball ...!!!!!

PS. Do more with less.com
 
 
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 27, 2014
Scott,

Here's another back of the envelope calculation for you.

Total world power consumption per year: 144,000 Terawatthours (from Wikipedia)
Total power dissipated in lightning strikes worldwide per year: 170 TWH (from Uppsala University)

So if ALL of the energy in lightning (think of it as the ionic energy in the atmosphere already handily packaged for you) were harnessed it would account for only 0.1% of the world's 'needs'. If we assume the efficiency of the process (if it were to work at all) would probably be low, and the distribution of the energy in the atmosphere is diffused worldwide, not just where we need it, and we assume that the net efficiency of those two factors is also 0.1% (just a presumably very generous guess), then the overall potential power supplied by the process in question would be 0.0001% of the world's needs.

If you're looking for for a more believable scam try: http://www.starscientific.com.au

Good luck!

Rocky

[Based on your calculations, do you conclude that the prototypes shown in the videos are fake? -- Scott]
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 27, 2014
Site with the math.

About 50 MW total power. A useful amount but not a commercial power supply.

http://www.electrostatics.org/images/a2.pdf

[I'm not a scientist, so I will ask a layperson's question. Is that calculation for all the energy of this type on the planet, or the energy one could get from one antenna? Would a second antenna next to the first double the energy output or does the one antenna somehow suck all the energy out of the entire county before the other can get some? -- Scott]
 
 
May 26, 2014
My name is Keith Brahms. I tried posting this yesterday, but if don't think it worked, so I'm reposting it today...
I am in one of the videos on the Indiegogo crowd funding page for Ion Power Group. I have no financial stake in the company or the technology, but I have known the inventor and his family for about a decade. I am just a guy who graduated from USAFA, served in the Air Force and now works as an airline pilot, so I'm not an expert in electrical engineering or atmospheric science, but I am fascinated by the technology and the results I've seen in person at the test site. I've worked on the project doing small tasks like soldering circuits or assembling the collectors, off and on for nine or 10 years. While I have no idea whether the technology is capable of scaling up to a commercial-sized power generation plant, I do know that it absolutely works at the proof of concept scale. The test facility is literally in the middle of a farmer's cow pasture in the middle of nowhere, and was put there to minimize the chances that power lines or radio towers or any other sources of electricity could impact the results.

I understand the skepticism. I understand the criticism of the video, too: it's hokey. The bottom line is this is essentially one family and a couple of friends on a near-zero budget trying to change the future. The owners are small town people who made the crowd funding page with very little help. The point of this new phenomena of online crowd funding is to raise capital without entering the venture capitalist world. Private equity capital is expensive and usually demands a large percentage of the company they are funding. I take it very personally when accused of participating in a scam. I know the amount of hard work and years of self funding that have gone into this project so far, and the flippant remarks of internet trolls grow old quickly.
Is this Ion collection a part of the puzzle of fulfilling the world's future energy requirements? I don't know yet, but I'm fascinated with the potential. I do know that anyone with the background to analyze the existing facility and provide an unbiased, honest assessment of the technology is welcome to do so. If you are a scientist or engineer and want to verify this technology, you can call me and I will put you in contact with the owners of Ion Power Group. If you come to see the facility, I will most likely be the one picking you up at the airport. My cell number is (850) 685-0932. Call me if you are qualified and serious.

Please be skeptical. Please ask for more information. However, if you're only purpose is to deride individuals on their looks or their public speaking ability, you are wasting everyone's time. I know there are plenty of con men out there, so I won't ask you to trust me or anyone involved with this technology without third party verification, but asking for donations as small as ten bucks would hardly be worth the time if it was only meant as a scam.

To those of you who posted thoughtful and sincere posts, thanks for your interest and feedback. I know everyone is reading every post. Mr. Adams, thank you for your belief in humanity and I think your willingness to write about this was a brave decision.

Like I said at the beginning, I'm not an owner of this company and I just volunteer my time with it because I find it fascinating. If it is a technology that can be part of the energy mix for our nation, it could be a game changer, so I'm interested in seeing the technology develop. I am looking forward to hearing your comments. Thank you.
--Keith Brahms

 
 
May 26, 2014
Florida receives the most lightening strikes in a given period during the summer season. - Wikipedia It stands to reason that there would be enough free ions to make a nice light show, but it's all smoke and mirrors. 50,000 Volts times 5e-6 Amps = nothing useful. You could solve the word's energy crisis more effectively by having children rub glass rods with silk cloth. It makes this energy solution actually sound like a good idea:
http://inhabitat.com/energy-generating-soccer-ball-brings-clean-power-to-off-grid-areas/
 
 
+9 Rank Up Rank Down
May 26, 2014


To Phantom II and All You Other Veterans, Past and Present:

Sorry the world is what it is, that your service was necessary. Despite all the anger and the fear of the evil that has not yet been subdued, we're glad you were at your station. Some of you gave years of your life, some gave limbs. Some lost their peace of mind, some their very lives. We couldn't expect Superman or Wonder Woman (today that is Wolverine and Storm) to come in and save the day, so we are grateful you did your part. Not just your sacrifice, but your family too, your parents, spouses and children. In a way, they served too. Whether in a foreign land together or here without you, you were missed.

Here's to the day when your sacrifice will no longer be required.

Until then,

thanks.


 
 
+24 Rank Up Rank Down
May 26, 2014
I looked briefly into a technology *extremely* like this some time ago.
It's genuine .. but not on the scale of generating power for consumers. Where it shows promise is for remote dataloggers .. extracting enough power to wake up every few minutes and transmit a tiny packet with some data.

For example - right now we can make working electrostatic 'ambient energy' converters which generate an impressive 58 uW. That's nothing to most people .. but just enough for some implantable sensors.

Also - electrostatic 'wind' harvesting works quite well - this example (http://www.ijiee.org/papers/240-L0035.pdf) which uses a different technique a theoretic 5 mW .. not bad ..

Where technologies like the *really* come into their own is scaling in the other direction ... if you want to harvest energy to supply nanobots with power than electrostatic harvesting is exactly the kind of thing that might well be used in 50 years time.

Ignoring the theatrics of the presentations, what makes it appear 'scammy' is that it gives the impression of hiding information. For example they could say "Basic calculations indicate that it won't scale up at all - but we'd like to try to scale it anyway just to see". That would be straight forward - and very noble and worthwhile .. someone should try it and publish the results so we can all learn. (That's the kind of '1%' chance that I can really support)

But by hiding the information (that basic calculations don't support it) it really gives a much less honourable impression. This stuff isn't unknown - there are probably thousands of PhDs done in this exact area .. figuring out the details of getting power out of the ambient environment.

Here's an example calculation using a slightly different technique (using a MEMS) :

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924424709000533

Is this technique comparable? I don't know .. but you can be damned sure that SOMEONE has written a nice little paper on the subject and calculated a maximum output energy density for this technique.

If they don't know of it (or they do know of it but aren't revealing it) - then it isn't a flattering look.


 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 26, 2014
Scott: It's a _fraud_.

The guys behind it *know* it doesn't work, they're trying to _steal_ your money.

I don't know what the laws are over there but maybe the authorities need to get involved.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 26, 2014
"Isn't this what Tesla was working on 100 years ago? Well, when he was taking a break from his earthquake machine, I mean... "


Yes, but Tesla was putting energy into the air with huge generators.

This scam _might_ work if everybody lived next to a huge radio transmitter and only wanted to light up a couple of light bulbs (Disclaimer: I haven't done the math for that)

Using cosmic rays, etc? Not a chance. You can get some volts out of the air, sure, (early "crystal" radios worked without batteries!) but not enough *Watts* to do anything useful around the house.

It's the Watts that count, not the volts.

Scott: You only need to ask them *one* question, "How many Watts does it generate".


[I asked that exact question for you. I'll let you know when I have an answer. And thank you for making it simple. -- Scott]
 
 
 
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