Fernando Galembeck, of the University of Campinas in Brazil, has shown that water vapor in humid air can accumulate charge and transfer it to materials it comes in contact with. He says it might be possible to design collectors that exploit this behavior to generate electricity. The technology, which he calls “hygroelectricity” could provide an alternative to solar power in places without much sunlight but with a lot of humidity. It could also be used to prevent lightning strikes, he says, by draining electrical charge out of the air. He notes, however, that the research is very early stage and that such technology could be a long time coming.
This report shows that: 1) water vapor adsorption on dielectrics or isolated metal surfaces enclosed within a shielded and grounded environment causes charge accumulation on the solid, depending on the relative humidity (RH), nature of the substrate and exposure time. 2) A steep charge increase is observed in liquid and solid insulators under the action of external fields when RH approaches 100%. These results are in agreement with the hypothesis of water acquiring charge during adsorption and condensation, due to partition of aqueous ions.
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