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 25, 2014
I witnessed this process myself in 2013. I am not an expert on generating energy but I work in a carreer field closely related to it.

All I can tell right now is that, based upon on the demonstration, explanation and presentation, this method will work. However, it might take addidional research to make thus method profitable / useable for large scale energy production.

In addition I want to state that this should not be a replacement to wind or solar energy. It is a gap filler. Wind and sunlight are not always available. Ions are......

May 25, 2014
dislyxec, lightning itself is pretty random both in how it is generated and where it lands. Sure you could use that as a marketing pitch, but a marketing pitch is just that.

Scott, do you know anyone personally with a physics/engineering background? He could easily look at what they are willing to show and give you a yea/nay on if it's even remotely possible.

And here's the big problem with the 1% of ideas that are actually possible: even if it's doable, you might not have the right team in place, or they might be just a little bit off, or something happens and it still fails.

PS. We need to breath air because our brains use oxygen as an electron dump. You were probably just being sarcastic with that remark, but that is the chemical reason I learned behind it. Just an FYI.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
May 25, 2014
I found the "monster" capacitors, See http://4hv.org/e107_plugins/forum/forum_viewtopic.php?161143

If they would publish the change in capacitor Voltage vs. time you could determine the power production. Since they elect not to publish this very simple measurement I have to assume it is not good.
May 24, 2014
I reviewed Drowlord's post. He said that the website had the following statement, approximately: "The monster capacitors we have are storing 41,000 volts each."

You can't store voltage. Voltage is also known as EMF, or electromotive force. You can't store force.

That's like saying you have a rock, and even though there's no force being applied to it, it has this big potential energy just waiting to be released. It has some intrinsic force, not connected to its mass, that somehow is just waiting to be applied. Somehow. So what's that force connected to?

And forget potential energy, which is based on a difference between two vertical states, because of the energy applied by gravity.

Look, guys, here's the truth: there is no free lunch. Energy does not appear or disappear. There is balance in the universe.

So if you have someone who is telling you that they can give you free energy from somewhere that doesn't require any other source to be diminshed, they are not telling you the truth.
May 24, 2014
Reminds me of this:

May 24, 2014
Scott, please listen to craig1f.
May 24, 2014
My point was that you don't refer to a capacitor by its voltage rating. That's incidental. It would be like characterizing a resistor by its variability percentage (1%, 5%, 10%, etc.) rather than its resistance in ohms.

41,000 volts may sound impressive, but it doesn't mean anything in terms of the capacitor's capacitance. Wrong term to be used there. Shows a desire to impress rather than a desire to inform.
May 24, 2014
Capacitor working voltage: Highest continuous voltage stress rating. It is usually about half of...
Capacitor breakdown voltage: Highest instantaneous voltage stress rating.
All capacitors have a voltage rating.
May 24, 2014
Nah, no scathing comments, Raskolnikov. What I'd like to say about all this is that Scott's audience is made up of some really, really smart folks.

Those of you who know my posts may remember that I don't read the other posts before I add my comments. This time, I made an exception because of what Scott said in his afterword ("read all comments").

Some excellent scientific points. I have not reviewed the website yet, and may not. I just wanted to add one piece of scientific/electrical accuracy to the discussion. This has to do with something Drowlord mentioned seeing on their web site: something about a "41,000 volt capacitor."

Wrong term. A capacitor has two purposes: one is to provide variable capacitance as part of a tuned circuit - I won't bore you with my ham radio background, but varying capacitance with a set coil's resistance allows frequencies to be selected. A capacitor allows alternating current to flow, but resists direct current flow. A coil does the opposite. Hook up a variable capacitor to a coil, and voila! You have an RF tuner.

The other use for a capacitor is to store energy. Note that word: energy. What is energy, you ask? In electrical terms, energy is power. Power is the ability to do work. What the electrical company sells you is not electricity, it is power.

Power, again in electrical terms, is defined as voltage times amperage. Its unit is the watt, named for James Watt. A 120-volt circuit that draws three amps is using 360 watts of power. Use that for one hour, and you've consumed 360 watt-hours of power.

A large capacitor can be used to store power. The unit of stored power capability (actually, the ratio of the electric charge on each conductor - a capacitor has two charge plates separated by a dielectric (insulator) to the potential (voltage) difference between them) is called the 'farad,' named for Michael Faraday.

Many portable electronic devices use large capacitors to provide constant power when the device is switched off from its power source, but still needs something (like volatile memory) to remain powered. They're often used in place of a battery to provide backup power because they can be recharged quickly and do not deteriorate to the same degree with repeated rechargings.

The point of all this is that no one who knows anything about electricity would ever characterize a capacitor by using the term 'volts' in relation to it. That would make no more sense than me saying I weigh 170 inches.

If I had read their website and came upon something that was so obviously in error, I would read no further. That, quite simply, indicates a level of BS that would, to me, destroy their credibility.

It has been said (by Oscar Wilde, actually) that second marriages are the triumph of hope over experience. So it is, I fear, with this concept. It may not be a scam, but if not, then the people who are running it don't know what they're talking about.

Scott has a big heart, and an active, curious mind. But it may be that he wants this to be real so much that he's letting his hope outweigh his experience. But he's not naive. After reading all these comments, I don't think he's going to be quite so gung-ho on this 'invention.'

Good comments, all. I am truly impressed.

[By gung-ho, you are referring to my "99% like to be bullshit" context? When did a 1% chance of working turn into gung-ho? -- Scott]
May 24, 2014
Stuff like this that gather tiny currents will become more and more feasible over time, because the amount of energy needed to run our infotainment devices will decrease over time.

I like telluric current capture better than atmospheric ion capture, as the available currents can be much higher and the gathering array is buried in the ground safe from weather, but like wind and solar, they are not everywhere, all the time. They appear to be driven indirectly by the solar wind.
-17 Rank Up Rank Down
May 24, 2014
No, no, no. The problem that everyone, including Scott, has overlooked is not that its a novel way of producing green energy. Humans have devised many many means for doing that, from solar to wind to wave energy and more. The problem isn't whether it scales to a usable factor or volts, watts, or amps. The problem is the multi-trillion dollar per year oil/gas/coal industry that opposes anything that gets in the way of their ability to keep making trillions of dollars per year. They own every legislative body on the planet and will make it illegal for you and I to generate our own electricity if they feel threatened. The game was over before we even started playing.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
May 24, 2014
Using those "Monster Capacitors" to store electricity from lightning would be more feasible. But, even if the technology worked (which is BS), storage is prohibitively expensive.

In this case, they shouldn't need to store it; they're only storing it to accumulate enough teensy amounts to appear useful.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 24, 2014
What do they actually want with those three million? Nothing they showed in the video looked expensive. There are plenty of high masts around, at broadcast stations or skyscrapers, so they can install small cheap devices to "showcase" their stuff.

Just for a comparison, this: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/23/Nuclear_Fission_Experimental_Apparatus_1938_-_Deutsches_Museum_-_Munich.jpg is Otto Hahn's "proof of concept" for nuclear fission. There is no need to spend three million dollars on "showcasing" a "proof of concept" for discharging athmospheric ions.

And their video is really off-putting. I'm waiting for "the wonder pole" appearing on some shopping channel.
+17 Rank Up Rank Down
May 24, 2014
This is so obviously a scam I have to wonder if you're scamming us for some thought experiment or story concept you're dreaming up.
May 24, 2014
Take it from a one-time scammee, (if you are true to your word and this isn't a thought experiment) the biggest red flag that you are about to get scammed is that you are doing a better job of singing praise of the investment than the promoters.

Can't you try and get in on the ground floor of something you know? Your money and time would be better spent picking winners among aspiring cartoonists IMHO.

+5 Rank Up Rank Down
May 24, 2014
[So you think this is a 10-year-long scam with real patents? Has that scam ever been done? -- Scott]

Yes. This is _exactly_ the scam that the "free energy" people have been using to suck in investors for decades.

(Google "free energy scam"...)
+21 Rank Up Rank Down
May 24, 2014
It's a scam, period. It will NOT scale up.

Volts mean nothing without amps. You can generate millions of volts by rubbing a balloon but it's not a power source.

Do the math: Ask them how many *AMPS* they're capturing. Amps times volts gives Watts. Light bulbs need 60 Watts. How many 60W light bulbs can they light? Oooops!

PS: Patents mean NOTHING. The people at the patent office don't check if things work or are based on good principles. All they do is rubber-stamp pieces of paper and file them. Imagine Wally's in charge of it if that helps.

May 23, 2014
I think this is one instance of the 1% that I'll pass on for now...

The big problem seems to be how to get useful current to do work on the other side of the capacitors.

As many of you have commented, this is not a new idea by any means - this story from 1922 strikes me as slightly more convincing, especially the patent ideas on the back end:

May 23, 2014
I think this is one instance of the 1% that I'll pass on for now...

The big problem seems to be how to get useful current to do work on the other side of the capacitors.

As many of you have commented, this is not a new idea by any means - this story from 1922 strikes me as slightly more convincing, especially the patent ideas on the back end:

May 23, 2014
> Is this Clint McCowen?

Aha, it is. I finally clicked on patent links. Interesting, I had him using torn carbonfiber matting as an ion-emitter, so it looks like he went much further with that.

Can it be scaled up? Yes, because the goal it to make the air sufficiently conductive that the naturally-ocurring ~300V/M e-field will drive significant current into the collector array. The tips of carbon fibers inject extra ions and lower the air conductivity. Going further, if the received power is sufficient to drive some active ionizers, and if the added margin lets us crank the ionizers even higher, the system's output wattage per square meter of array should rise to an upper limit which is unknown.

It's Ben Franklin's kite experiment, industrial version. Franklin's Kite was not intended to survive lightning strikes. Instead the kite string was a high-resistance electrolytic conductor which intercepted a few microamps of the vertical sky-current produced by a thunderstorm.
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