Q: Would it be possible to generate power from artificial lightning?

The original question was: Would it be possible to create a very dense cloud cover inside a laboratory under controlled conditions and generate “artificial lightning”?  the Power output would be Amazing!!  it would really help solve our energy crisis.

The Chaitén volcano in Chile. Holy shit.

Physicist: Lightning is generated in the same way that static electricity is generated when you drag your feet on a carpet.  A storm cloud or an ash cloud is just a whole mess of feet and carpet.  As ash explodes out of a volcano it rubs together.  Almost all of that kinetic energy becomes more heat, but a very, very small fraction becomes electrical energy.

It is entirely possible to create static electricity, and even lightning using this method.  Van de Graaf generators, for example, use rubbing to generate voltages in excess of a 1,000,000V.  However, it’s a very inefficient method for generating power.  Dynamo generators (the standard generator) are surprisingly efficient.

Essentially, it would take a lot of energy to throw all that dust into the air and get it moving and, because you can’t get more energy out than you put in, it wouldn’t be worth it.  In fact the electrical power you would get out would be tiny compared to the power it took to make it work in the first place.  That being said, it would look pretty cool, so why not?

Artificial lightning (in miniature) is regularly created in places like NEETRAC at Georgia Tech.

The last thing on my bucket list is "pee on an artificial lightning generator".

An artificial lightning bolt.

This lightning is generated using capacitor banks (not rubbing stuff together, the way natural lightning is created) and is feeble by comparison to the real thing.  Also, it isn’t used to generate power.  It’s used to test the ability of new equipment and machines to survive lightning strikes.

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13 Responses to Q: Would it be possible to generate power from artificial lightning?

  1. Speaking of lightnings… Have you guys seen videos of the “ArcAttack” musical tesla coil at the Bay Area Maker Faire? Pretty neat.

  2. Pingback: Mystery Answer – May 2012 « Everything is Weird

  3. tyler mcmahon says:

    i am working on a similar project, and my question is this, if one used solar panels to capture the energy needed to create the supercell storm and power other processes, could the scaled down lightning power electrolysis cells capable of converting ocean water, into clean air, clean water, hydrogen fuel, etc, and be controlled so as not to cause a massive explosion due to the combustibility of the split elements?

  4. PARTHIBAN says:

    How artificial lightining is possible using capacitor banks?

  5. The Physicist The Physicist says:

    Capacitors can store electrical energy, but unlike batteries, they’re really good at releasing that power all at once.

  6. prabhu says:

    how to use the lightining power because your concept is to produce a electrical energy from lightining but you waste the energy to create it so your artifical lightining must be produce wastage

  7. ranjith says:

    Am thinking on this kind of a thing tat is about creating a lightning bolt..for tat what are the areas one should be thorough?

  8. sunil says:

    if we capture lightning energy by some eqiupment and than it can converted into arc such as tubelight and then light emits from it, is collected by the solar plate. it is possible or not …my question is littel stupid but i think that…..give me suggestion…

  9. John Smith says:


    He is not suggesting creating artificial lightning to generate power. The setup being suggested here is used to design a system which can capture lightning when it occurs naturally. But before one can have such a setup which can actually capture natural lightning, one should be able to test it. For that testing purpose one has to have access to lightning whenever it is needed. So they try to use a mechanism which can generate lightning. This is used only for design and testing not for actual generation use. Once the design is perfected using this artificial lightning one can try to use it with real lightning.

    Also directly using/testing it with real lightning apart from being unreliable would also be somewhat foolhardy as one may not know the physical limits of the setup. Natural lightning might damage it in the first instance. But using artificial lightning one can slowly increase the intensity of the lightning as required and finally arrive on to the actual intensity limit till which the setup to capture lightning power will work without getting damaged. Again the artificial lightning is being used to design and test.

  10. Anish says:

    Is it possible to conserve static charges…..and lightning is neutralised when it is arrested by a lightning arrestor then how to separate it as positive and negative charges if also it is conserved….

  11. Maxwell Halbrecht says:

    Instead of trying to create artificial lightning artificially, what about trying and creating natural lightning artificially by creating a highly pressurized area with a high amount of static energy in the air? Wouldn’t this be able to create energy efficiently?

  12. Ryan says:

    Well… I guess I’m not going to Chile.

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