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Water-Drop Electrostatic Generator
Luke Birch
Energy Systems Senior Research Lab
One of the largest problems that the world
has faced in recent decades and is still yet to be
resolved is the problem of energy. We still use
fossil fuels more than any other types of energy
and we only have a limited supply. However, a
variety of different solutions to the energy
problem has been and continues to be
developed. Solar, wind, nuclear, and water
power have been the most prevalent of these
solutions. The one I decided to focus on was the
most latter: water. Obviously water should be
something that we should utilize, as it is
completely renewable and over 70% of our earth
is covered by it. As I discovered in my research
however, water solutions have been around for a
good deal of time, as well as other unique,
creative solutions not necessarily dealing with
water. One of these solutions was developed by
the world renowned physicist Lord Kelvin in 1867
– a water-drop electrostatic generator. I will
explain later some of the intricacies of the
generator, but the overall premise of it is that
someone can take dripping water and produce
voltage to generate electricity. My goal was to be
able to make a model of Kelvin’s device, without
purchasing any materials and using only spare
parts I found around the lab or in my garage, and
generate voltage. I read several pieces of
scientific literature that aided me in my project,
but two in particular were especially essential:
Chong et. al’s Applied Energy: Techno-economic
analysis of a wind-solar hybrid renewable energy
system with rainwater collection feature for urban
high-rise application and Bill Beaty’s Kelvin's
thunderstorm: lord kelvin's water-drop
electrostatic generator. Chong et al.’s article
helped me understand the basic premises of
hydropower, and the available combinations of
different energy sources. Beaty’s article gave me
an in-depth guide on the water-drop electrostatic
generator, and helped me understand the insand-outs of the device. If I were able to produce
voltage with my own water-drop electrostatic
generator, I would be able to further prove the
fact that electricity can be generated by many
different ways and – all it takes is some creativity.
1. . I constructed a frame from pieces of wood that I found
in my garage and in the technology storage room. I cut
out two pieces of 2”x12”x36” wood and four pieces of
2”x4”x32” wood. I used one of the 36” pieces as a
base and nailed the other four so that their 2 inch sides
were flush with the edge of the base.
2. I then proceeded to make a mid beam which would
direct the tubes carrying the water through the soup
cans. I drilled two holes in this beam, each
approximately 7 inches in from the edges and centered.
I also drilled one large hole completely centered on the
top beam in order to direct the tube connecting to the
water source.
3. Next I constructed the “inducers” of the project. I cut
two pieces of 7” pieces of PVC pipe. I then cut out the
bottoms and tops of two soup cans and hot glued each
PVC pipe to each can. I then nailed supports to the
side and attached the PVC pipes to them. I made sure
the centers of the cans were directly in line with the
holes above them.
4. I then soldered an aluminum wire to the inducing cans
and the collector cans and set the collector cans on
insulating plastic.
5. Finally, I found a water dispenser in my garage and
decided to use that as the water source. I took a tube
and attached it to the dispenser and led it through the
hole on the top beam. On the other end of the tube, I
attached a splitter, which split into two separate tubes
that were led through the holes on the mid beam. I
attached Styrofoam to the bottom of the mid beam in
order to direct the tubes directly through the inducing
In order to test the generator, I pushed gently on the
dispenser button so that equal water cam out each
tube and each stream split into water droplets
during its brief period between the inducing cans. I
attached a wire from a multimeter to each collecting
can and tested for any change in voltage. The first
day I tested I was able to get several readings.
However, everyday I tried to perform the test after
that produced either inconsistent or nonexistent
readings. This could be due to numerous factors,
from humidity, to lack of quality insulating materials,
to bad electrical connections, etc., etc. The
readings I was able to obtain are provided in the
graph below.
The purpose of my project was to create a functioning
model of Lord Kelvin’s water-drop electrostatic generator
with only spare parts I found around the research
laboratory and around my house. I would deem my
project marginally successful, as I was able to get some
good voltage readings the first day I tested it. However,
I was not able to debug the device after it did not work in
the following days. Obviously, a water-drop electrostatic
generator cannot produce mass amounts of electricity.
Perhaps next year, someone could continue my project
and try to develop a generator that produces a
substantial amount of electricity from rain water. I have
already purchased the materials needed for such a
water reclamation system, and it could be easily
constructed and installed by a student in the coming
years. A water-drop electrostatic generator may not be
practical yet, or ever, but it demonstrates how someday
we may able to find a viable solution to fossil fuels, it just
takes some creatitivity.
Voltage Achieved (mV)
Overall, I believe I was successful because I was able to
demonstrate the basic function of a water-drop
electrostatic generator. My model did not function as
well as many existing ones, but it also contained different
parts that could have led to some of the inconsistencies.
I was able to show that electricity can be produced, even
if in very small quantities, from random occurrences such
as water-dropping.
Literature Cited
Beaty, B.. (1995). Kelvin's thunderstorm: lord
kelvin's water-drop electrostatic generator.
Retrieved from Http://www. Eskimo.
Com/~billb/emotor/kelvin. Html .
Chong, W., Naghavi, M., Poh, S., Mahlia, T., & Pan,
K. (2011, April 13). ScienceDirect - Applied
Energy : Techno-economic analysis of a windsolar hybrid renewable energy system with
rainwater collection feature for urban high-rise
application. ScienceDirect - Home. Retrieved
September 20, 2011, from