Photo credit: NASA

There’s a saying out there that everything is science fiction until the moment it’s not. For the field of atmospheric energy, which conjures up images of floating blimps and thunderstorms, this is particularly true. While engineers such as Nikola Tesla and Hermann Plauson conducted groundbreaking research and experiments on capturing this free energy source in the early 20th Century, it’s an industry that has remained largely untapped.

SEFE, Inc., based out of Boulder, Colorado, is one company that’s building on the work of Tesla and Plauson with an aim to turn the atmospheric energy industry into a viable and leading renewable. With its Harmony III atmospheric energy system in full development, and a rich portfolio of patents, the publicly-traded company is on the doorstep of turning science fiction into reality. SEFE is the major sponsor of

“As these pieces come together, we continue to move the science forward,” said Don Johnston, CEO of SEFE. “As the first and only company in a position to exploit atmospheric energy, and particularly with the launch of our new Science and Technology Center in Boulder, we’re in the process of designing and testing the exclusive technologies that will take us into the next phase.”

As part of our on-going look at atmospheric energy and the potential it has to uproot traditional sources of electricity, we recently contacted Director of Engineering at SEFE, Inc. Michael Hurowitz for an update on the Harmony system and the challenges faced in developing the technology.

Can you explain the potential benefits of harvesting energy from the atmosphere?

The SEFE approach to the production of electricity has several benefits over other forms of energy. The Harmony system produces electricity using the earth’s natural electric field. This electric field is largely maintained by the flux of solar wind that continually replenishes the ionosphere. The fields in the lower 1-3km of the atmosphere are sufficient to drive useful work to some degree. The approach is inherently elegant in its simplicity & ability to produce power off the grid for remote applications. The carbon footprint involved in manufacturing & operating SEFE systems is very low.

Have attempts been made before to harness atmospheric energy? What’s the history?

Yes, you can find examples of this technology all the way back to Benjamin Franklin’s time when his famous kite, key and string experiment was able to charge a Leyden jar during a thunderstorm. Franklin also invented the first electrostatic motor. Nikola Tesla was working on various projects dedicated to producing and transmitting electricity from the atmosphere. Hermann Plauson was probably the most successful in history at developing an actual prototype power generating system in this manner. We aim to build primarily on Plauson’s design using more modern techniques and materials.

Atmospheric energy capture as imagined by Plauson in the early 20th Century.

In an easy-to-understand way, how does the Harmony III capture and store energy?

The Harmony system takes advantage of the natural electric field of the earth and uses it to produce useful electricity through a proprietary electrostatic generator designed to operate on the high voltage available in the atmosphere.

What are some of the challenges associated with capturing energy from the atmosphere?

There are several challenges we’re facing in developing this technology. The biggest source of uncertainty for us is the circular nature of the design. We’ve got to isolate the ideal operating parameters and use that to determine engineering requirements. Things like the type of lift vehicle, altitude of lift, weight of tether and conductors, weight of collection elements and onboard electronics. A lot of the design parameters remain to be resolved.

What industries could benefit from this tech?

We are focusing on being a supplemental technology in the short-term. We’d like to provide a boost to utility companies, mining and other resource extraction operations, relief organizations, and remote construction sites. Many businesses are too exposed to energy prices that impact their profitability, SEFE aims to help with this burden.

What are the price benefits of atmospheric energy over other renewables like wind and solar?

Unfortunately we do not have a highly accurate cost model at this time. The technology is “ballpark” competitive with other renewable sources. Exactly how it stacks up to other renewable remains to be determined.

Tell us about your new Science and Technology Center in Boulder, CO – how will this new facility help speed up development of the Harmony system?

The STC is an excellent location, we’ve got access to a huge talent pool & some of the world’s leading atmospheric scientists. The space will be adequate for us to grow over the next couple years. We’ve got room to add more people, equipment, and projects to ensure SEFE’s success.

To learn more about SEFE, Inc. and their Harmony III system, please visit their official website here.

 SEFE is the major sponsor of

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