Atmospheric Electricity Generation: Is this “true energy” the sleeping giant of renewables?

A company called SEFE says that it will soon be able to generate a limitless supply of renewable energy by converting static electricity from the atmosphere into direct current.

Ever since Benjamin Franklin and his kite, we have been aware of the electrical power that is statically and consistently present in great magnitude between the negatively charged earth and the positively charged atmosphere.

This Wikipedia entry has a lot more information on where this energy comes from.

Over the years (famously beginning with Nikola Tesla) there have been many attempts at harnessing this latent energy for practical use.

But no one has been able to harness it in a practical way...until now perhaps? From the (nicely designed and informative) SEFE website:

SEFE has developed a proprietary technology which aims to harvest the constant and powerful static electricity that is continually formed in the earth’s atmosphere. Through a series of patented and patent-pending devices, SEFE’s Harmony system is designed to draw the static electricity in direct current form from the atmosphere, converting it to alternating current for immediate power consumption. And, the system can reconvert the alternating current back into direct current form for longer-term storage in banks of batteries. The system’s design employs an airborne carrier, which can be a high-altitude weather balloon or blimp, to send a conductive cable into the atmosphere, where it is suspended and tethered in constant contact with a ground unit. Attached to the conductive cable is a “black box” which converts the naturally occurring electricity into usable form. The electricity is sent down the conductive cable to a power generator, which, in turn, can send the power to an existing electric company’s infrastructure and grid for commercial and residential consumption. This platform generator also can convert the electricity for longer-term storage.

SEFE's flagship product is called the Harmony III and it incorporates an electrostatic motor that operates as a generator when it is supplied with a high voltage/low current power source, such as that which is in abundant existence in the atmosphere. So far SEFE has received four patents for its system and has more pending approval.

One of the questions in their online FAQ pertains to the aesthetics of the system:

Q: Wind farms take up the entire countryside and blot out the landscape. Wouldn’t that be true of balloons in the sky?

A: In a word, no. To maximize electricity collection, the SEFE system hoists the airborne device hundreds of feet into the atmosphere, well out of typical line of sight. Also, since each unit can generate an abundance of electricity, there are less units needed in collaboration with each other. So, fewer units dot the landscape. By contrast, solar or wind systems need a significant amount of space; hence, these “farms” take up real estate in the production of electricity. Instead, we harvest electricity, right from the source.

You may not be able to see the collection devices, but it would make an interesting study to take a look at the artistic possibilities for the ground-based equipment and the tethering systems.

The name SEFE derives from the meteorological phenomenon called St. Elmo’s Fire, where coronal discharge from a grounded object causes light to form at the end of sharp corners of that object. It is most often witnessed emanating from ship's masts during thunderstorms when atmospheric voltage is very high.

It sounds too good to be true, but after looking through the copious amount of information on their website, we are very optimistic that SEFE is really on to something with this. They are a publicly traded company and their stock price has been rising steadily since March, with some extreme activity in the past couple of weeks.

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