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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May 26, 2014
I find it suspicious that the image labelled "Microscopic surface view of our patented ion collectors..." is the same as the one over here http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SEM_of_carbon_nanotubes_with_graphene_foliates_with_TEM_inset,_deposited_via_microwave_plasma_enhanced_CVD_at_Duke_University_2011.png

If it is their patented ion collectors then... you know where I'm going with this, right?
May 25, 2014
Their website carefully avoids consumer cost-per-kW or construction cost-per-MW. If you get past possible-scam 1 (does it work) there's possible-scam 2 (not economical). They'll say with enough investment it -could- be economical, and they -might- be right, or not....
[So, you're saying exactly what they are saying, but more angrily so it seems like a point? -- Scott]
Hi Scott - I wasn't trying to be angry at all. I don't think they're saying "it's a great science project if you ignore the economics. It's possible we could make it economical some day, but we don't know how to right now" which is what I was saying. I think that to get that 1% probability you're looking for, they need to have at least a -path- to making it economical, and my impression was that they weren't that far yet. Some blue-sky investments pay off, but significantly less than 1%. So people can invest, but to be fair they should understand that it's indeed blue-sky.

May 25, 2014
Hi Scott, I am not an atmospheric scientist, but an independent filmmaker.

Every one of your commenters seems deadset on this being a scam, which you admit is 99% likely. However, like Fox Mulder I want to believe.

You forwarding questions to the company doesn't seem like a good enough proof for most people. If you are interested, I would gather all the questions from the other commenters, along with my own, and then arrange to sit down with the CEO (or whoever) of the company and ask the questions on camera. We could arrange a similar interview with an atmospheric scientist.

If they are for real the video could be developed into a full documentary of much higher quality than their Indiegogo campaign video. If they're a scam, I'll expose them to the world and that would be interesting too.

If this is something you want to pursue, you have my email.

[That would be interesting. But in all candor, the only way this could be less credible is if a filmmaker got involved :-) -- Scott]
May 25, 2014
Some background on sky ionization power:

hobbyist runs tiny motor using hexacopter-lifted antenna wire

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 25, 2014
[Update 2: I'll forward to the company for response any simply-stated question you have ...]

Given a 99% scam likelihood, why should I trust their answers?

Also, I think you've done enough for your friends, risking an amount of embarassment for them that goes way above and beyond what one could reasonably expect friends to do.

They've gotten the exposure and anyone of us who wants to ask a question can ask directly, using an email-address from their contacts page, http://www.ionpowergroup.com/Contact.html.

On the one percent chance of this not being a scam, I have not a question but a suggestion:
What they need is to provide enough information that someone else can try it out. Since they have applied for a patent, it should be safe enough to do so.
May 25, 2014
[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.]

Are you interested in getting answers questions about Clinton Raymond McGowan who is apparently the inventor of this technology yet is nowhere mentioned on the company website or on the fundraising page? (In addition to information about him included in my post below, he is listed on the patents you link to.)

Such as...

Can you confirm whether the inventor is the same Clinton Rayond McCowen who is a convicted felon who was sentenced to four years in Florida prison for unlawful financial transactions resulting from his activities as "Ray Guhn" while running a video production and web distribution company?

Does Clinton Rayond McCowen, have any education, training or experience in the area of electrical engineering specifically related to power generation or storage?

Will Clinton Rayond McCowen have any role related to Ion Power or any associated companies or activities? If so then why is this not mentioned by the company? If not then aren't the odds of success much lower without the inventor's involvement in some way?

Will any of the revenue or profits associated with this fundraising activity, associated with this company or related ventures or associated with the use of this ion harvesting technology end up with Clinton Rayond McCowen? If so then why is this not mentioned by the company? If not then why won't the inventor be receiving any potential revenue or profits related to the development or success of his technology?

May 25, 2014
I am not sure if my original / previous message made it. Sometimes it's there, sometimes it disappears. I will give it another try.

I am a senior comms officer (with degree in electronics) of the Netherlands Air Force. Late 2013 I had the honour to witness a demonstration of this technique. I was following the news (and progression) already for a little while and became introduced to the founders of this discovery.

I am convinced that harvesting ions and producing electricity from it is possible. I have seen it myself and was able to check the instruments, the process and the outcome. I witnessed this in a labatorium and also in a field. Again, both times I was able to convince myself that there was no tampering.

At the same time I do realize that the current status of this technique needs to be developed. There is a clear proof of concept but it needs to be developed before commercial use is possible.

This technique shouldn't be considered as an alternative to wind or solar energy. In my opinion, it is a gap filler and provides a solution when other sources are not available or can't be used.

I am not tied or otherwise involved in 'IONPOWERGROUP'
May 25, 2014
Now, Scott, stop being so thin-skinned. Here is the evidence, from your post, that seems (and I say 'seems') to indicate you were, if not 'gung ho,' then at least seriously considering this company:

"If you are one of those [investor in green energy] types, . . . depending on your credentials, I might even pay for your trip to see it."

I do not know you, except from your writing. But I think I know you well enough to know that you don't throw your money away. It would surprise me very much if you would pay for someone's trip to a company like this just out of idle curiosity.

I know the rich are different, but not that different.

[I would pay for the trip out of active curiosity, not idle. And I would be just as satisfied with a debunking result as a confirmation. -- Scott]
May 25, 2014
"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. Do you take that 1% chance?"

Let's address that point:

A 1% chance is 1 in 100. For a long-shot, especially with a low investment, why not take the risk?

But this particular 'opportunity' seems more like .0001%. You'd get better odds in a lottery, and only risk $1 on a ticket.

If you want to help people, I suggest a charity that helps people dig wells and get access to clean drinking water. You spend a few $100 (or more) and there is 0% return on your investment (to you) but a 100% possibility that some people, somewhere in the world, will be better off.
May 25, 2014
My mind keeps flashing back to the scene in the Ghostbuster Movie where the Ghostbusters are locked in battle with the EPA over whether or not the ghost containment system is safe and the EPA decides it is not and orders the containment field shutdown and chaos ensues.

This project fails to adequately explain how the stored energy can be transported and injected into the local grid or the projected size requirements for the collection array and power plant itself. Where are the viable injection points in a typical city? How far away can an Ion Power Plant be from one of these injection points? The local electrical concern will have a long list of conditions that will have to be met in order for them to enter into agreement to do business with a new energy provider. Will any of these conditions require reengineering any portion of the patented collection, storage, and delivery system? How resilient will the system be towards accommodating these kinds of engineering change orders?

The closer a Ion Power Plant is to such an injection point the harder it will be to purchase or lease a large enough empty space to house an Ion Power Plant, the farther away you go the more expensive it becomes to install and maintain the transmission lines. How expensive will the equipment be to inject the power into the grid? Are there any standardized hardware for this or will a custom piece of hardware have to be manufactured for each and every site? Will that piece of hardware require any kind of specialized testing prior to being approved for use? The longer the transmission line the more easements you have to negotiate and invariably compensate the owner for.

How often do the various parts of the system break down or their efficiency degrade to the point they need replacement? Have their replacement costs been factored into the equation and can they be readily replaced without having to shut the system entirely down? What effects will pollution or birds have on the ion collection array? What are the effects to the system if one or more components unexpectedly fail? What kinds of redundancies and safety measures have been engineered into the system to address this kind of eventuality?

The more open this project becomes the more likely people will offer up with ways to simplify the complex and come up with novel ways to cut costs and overcome what seems like insurmountable obstacles. I will stop ruminating and let you return to your regularly scheduled program...
May 25, 2014
I have been to Ion Power Group’s research site and can attest to the validity of this nascent technology. Now, I am not a scientist. I do not know if this technology has large scale potential but, as a retired military officer, I can imagine how useful it might be to military units deployed in very austere environments. One of the greatest logistical burdens related to sustaining these units in the field is the delivery of the fuel needed to power rather low-level energy needs (e.g., computer systems and simple lighting). If this technology provided a way of deriving sufficient energy straight from the air to power these systems, it would not only save a lot of money but also reduce the need to expose troops involved in transporting supplies from enemy attack. I can also attest to just how much time and effort has been dedicated by a small team of enthusiasts to developing this technology. Their commitment and imagination inspire me. What they need now is for someone with advanced technical expertise to take a look at their technology to determine its full potential. I will add that I have no financial interest in Ion Power Group but very much consider the team to be good friends. I sincerely hope they are successful.
-6 Rank Up Rank Down
May 25, 2014

Sure, yes, right, of course. Seriously, I hear you.

There are many smart people out and I'm not one of them, but from a layman's perspective, why would it not work? Or what stops that kind of system from functioning?
If lightning is produced an average of 44 times per second, that seems like allot of energy out there. Can it be harnessed?
If I had a trillion dollars can it be harnessed to be a power system?
How does the amount of potential energy from the sun compare with the potential energy of atmospheric electricity?

Do the collectors need to be 3 miles in the air? Would we need too many to be feasible?
(I just read the calculations of air volumes needed, that sounds like a problem.)
Why is flying a kite not a sure fire method of suicide?

I might imagine the collectors have to be too big and too widespread and harvest too little energy, that solar energy is a better path to success.
Central Africa gets hit quite a bit. Low on the US West Coast. I imagine distribution of the collectors and distribution of the produced energy is a problem.
Can we artificially make enough positive leaders? Or is the amount of electricity created too little?
Would a windmill create more static charge in a shorter amount of time?

I see that lasers can bring in the lightning. I can't imagine that's cost effective.

However this turns out, don't let France run the program.

France’s national rail company announced a problem with its recently delivered $20 billion purchase of 2,000 new trains for the country’s expanding railway system. The problem is the entire new fleet won’t fit in many of the country’s train stations. They are too wide for the platforms.

I can just hear it now, 'Go get me anther extension cord'.

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May 25, 2014
Hear, hear: Pardon my last posting. It appears that this blogging software does not know how to recognize all of the characters on a standard keyboard.
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 25, 2014
At some time in the future, Scott will start out a new blog post along the following lines: “I recently performed a trivial experiment in order to find out how many of my blog readers would be prepared to invest in a new variety of snake oil.” And he will remind his readers of this blog post of May 23, 2014 on the subject of “making electricity from air”. That future blog post should normally provide many of us with a nice opportunity of fine-tuning our precious !$%*!$%* Indicators, because Scott will be offering us what was known as a moot in the ancient British legal system. There’ll be a lot of debate about where the greater streams of ionic BS are coming from. The con company or rather Scott?
May 25, 2014
Pardon my last posting. It appears that this blogging software does not know how to recognize all of the characters on a standard keyboard.
May 25, 2014
All power producing plants undergo rigorous inspections to ensure that all the appropriate international, country, state, county, and municipal standards are strictly adhered to prior to being approved for use. No one will enter into a patent licensing agreement with Ion Power Group, LLC if these standards can’t be met.

In order to ensure that each product being utilized in a power plant meets these various standards they must undergo vigorous testing. Products that pass out of these testing laboratories are provided a comprehensive report attesting to the products regulatory compliance and under what conditions the product may be used.

As an Ion Power Plant will be utilizing a combination of “tested” and “new” technology there may be a need for additional field or laboratory testing to ensure regulatory compliance or determine their efficiency, reliability, viability and community and plant safety.

No levelheaded community will entertain the idea of sanctioning a power plant unless Ion Power Group, LLC can prove beyond a shadow of doubt that their existing test bed works and that they have the capability to successfully and safely scale it.

A comprehensive report needs to be created by a nationally recognized testing facility attesting to the viability of the current test bed and provide an accurate assessment of what amount of energy is actually being collected and available for use and what amounts of energy could realistically be delivered to the local grid based on the size of the proposed collection array and power plant configuration.

As the testing facility’s reputation will be at stake the process will likely be time consuming and quite costly. Without a properly executed expert review of the technology and project plan, no will be able to really ascertain the viability or potential ROI of building power plants based on this technology. Flying someone out from such a testing facility to the test lab location to get a price quote for providing a comprehensive report might be a good first step as the representative is unlikely to take on such a charge if he thought his lab couldn't adequately provide the required validation of Ion Power Group various claims.

The Engineering and Construction Companies tasked with building the power plant and collection array will need a lot more than a pretty 3D rendering in order to construct a “working” power plant. They will need to craft a very complex step-by-step plan and work with a list of materials and processes they may not be completely familiar with. If they aren’t 100% comfortable with every little engineering detail they will refuse to take part in the project.

If the technology warrants support than it will be up to the ion power plant host community and donors to determine if the Ion Power Group, LLC team has what it takes to successfully execute such a difficult project within the donation budget and subsequent jump into the world of patent licensure and patent defense.
May 25, 2014
My name is Keith Brahms. 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 do know the inventor and his family. 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 worked on the site, 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 where it currently is. 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. Is this Ion collection a part of the puzzle? I don't know yet, but 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 McCowen family. 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
+17 Rank Up Rank Down
May 25, 2014
Wait, it gets better... on their indiegogo page, scroll to the bottom and look at their team... not a single one of them has anything to do with electrical engineering, except the patent lawyer. I'm thinking the creationist museum is starting to look more believable than this.
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May 25, 2014
Wow... I could only make it about half way through that scam video. I mean, I don't think you can make a more scam-like video if you tried. Were they drunk? High? Whatever that was, I felt like I was either getting punk'd or waiting for them to say "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!!!!!"

I like the one were we repave everything with solar smart grids. How do I get in on that one?
+26 Rank Up Rank Down
May 25, 2014
Ask fellow cartoonist Randall Munroe at http://what-if.xkcd.com/ to do the math.
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