Hydra skyscraper sucks electricity out of lightning bolts

Tall buildings get blasted with lightning bolts all the time, but instead of freaking out about it, this skyscraper concept actually harvests those lightning bolts to generate power.

The Hydra skyscraper concept is made of graphene, which is one of the sexiest almost-not-a-fantasy materials out there. It's immensely light and strong, and has high enough electrical conductivity to serve as a badass lightning rod as well as a vital structural component.

The building is essentially a giant Faraday cage that directs electrical energy around (as opposed to through) itself and into giant capacitors in the base of the structure. The electricity is then used to split water into oxygen and hydrogen to store energy in the form of a fuel cell.

That all sounds pretty great, so you might be wondering why we aren't harvesting lightning already. A lightning bolt has an average power of about 500,000 megawatts, which also happens to be about how much power the entire United States is using at any one time. Sadly, your average lightning bolt only lasts 30 microseconds, implying that you'd need about 30,000 of them to strike every second to keep the lights on across the country. On a smaller scale, lightning harvesting has actually been tried, but it didn't pan out. From an article in the NY Times:

Dr. Martin A. Uman, co-director of the Lightning Research Laboratory at the University of Florida, disagrees. "Lightning is just really fast and really bright," he says, but doesn't actually carry that much energy by the time it gets down to earth. He estimates that dozens of towers would be required just to operate five 100-watt light bulbs for a year. "The energy is in the thunderstorm," he says. "A typical little thunderstorm is like an atomic bomb's worth of energy. But trying to get the energy from the bottom of the lightning is hopeless."

Aw, lame! Nikola Tesla would be sad, and so am I. Looks like this concept is gonna stay a concept, for now, but you can still enjoy all the pretty pics in the gallery below.

Hydra Skyscraper, via Inhabitat

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