Can lightning power smartphones?

Lightning is what happens when there’s so much electricity built up in the clouds, it has no where to go but down. OK that’s a highly simplified explanation, but still pretty accurate. No matter how you explain it, lightning is a dangerous but powerful explosion of energy, one that up until recently, man had no way to harness.

That’s about to change thanks to the work of scientists from the University of Southampton, UK. Researchers there are collaborating with Nokia to develop technology that would allow us to power our smartphones with lightning (albeit on a much smaller scale).

Image via University of Southampton/Nokia

In case you’re envisioning a day when you hold your Nokia up to the sky Ben Franklin-style during a lightning storm, let’s clarify that the Nokia concept won’t be life-threatening–though it will be wireless.

“Using an alternating current, driven by a transformer, over 200,000 volts was sent across a 300mm gap – giving heat and light similar to that of a lightning bolt,” said Neil Palmer, a scientist at the University of Southampton. “The signal was then stepped into a second controlling transformer, allowing us to charge the phone.”

What happened next surprised even the scientists, writes Phil B. for Nokia. “We were amazed to see that the Nokia circuitry somehow stabilized the noisy signal, allowing the battery to be charged in only seconds,” added Palmer.

For now, the scientists have yet to suss out how they could transmit similar pulses of energy over long distances to a home charging station–or how to create a lightning-making home charging station that the average human could use safely. But the potential is electrifying to say the least.

“As one of the first companies to introduce wireless charging into our products, we believe that this experiment has the potential to jump-start new ideas on how we charge our phones in the future,” said Chris Weber, Executive Vice President for Sales & Marketing at Nokia.

* Beth Buczynski, EarthTechling