Wireless Transmission of Power now possible

by Thomas W. Benson for Electrical Experimenter, March 1920

Recent developments tend to fulfill the old, old dream of power transmission without wires. For years men have labored in vain to transmit power without wires and thus solve a myriad of transportation problems, such as a propelling vehicles, ships, trains, aircraft, etc., without having to include a source of power in their construction. It makes one’s head almost reel to think of the possibilities in such an achievement and now the dream promises to come true.

By one bold stroke an English genius, Mr. John Hettinger, has unthinkingly opened up the way for its realization. Like numerous other inventions, the way lay before our very eyes, but we were all too bling to see it.

While working on a means for transmitting radio waves without material aerials, MR. Hettinger hit upon the idea of using ionized light beams as elevated conductors. Obviously simple when one thinks of it.

It is a well-known fact that an ionized gas is a conductor; in fact, the conductivity of a gas is a measure of its ionization. Furthermore, it is possible to ionize a gas by means of a stream of ultra violet rays. Working with these facts, Mr. Hettinger devised means to utilize them for radio transmission in the following manner.

As shown in Fig. 1, a source of ultra violet rays, an arc or mercury vapor lamp. A. is arranged to throw a beam of ionizing rays vertically.

These rays result in an ionized stream of air that acts as a conductor, the surrounding un-ionized air being practically a perfect insulator. By making connection to this conducting beam with a metallic screen or mesh at B, it can be utilized as an aerial for radio communication.

We are perfectly aware that this ionized beam rapidly loses its conducting power as the distance from the source increases, therefore the effective height of such an arrangement is determined by the intensity of the ray generator. So much for the idea as applied to radio communication.

But let us consider further. In studying the spectrum we find that the sunlight on reaching the earth contains few ultra violet rays of shorter wavelengths than 3.000 Angstrom units, yet we are able to generate much shorter rays with an arc light. It is unreasonable to assume that shorter waves do not leave the sun, and in view of the fact that it has been determined that the upper stratum of our atmosphere is ionized, it is accepted that the shorter rays are absorbed to cause this ionization.

It will now be apparent that a very good condition exists for the transmission of energy without wires. As shown in Fig. 2, we have the earth, a good conductor, surrounded with a blanket of insulating air about ten miles thick, beyond which, up to about a hundred miles, the air is highly rarefied and kept in a state of ionization by light from the sun and stars.

Hence, we have two good conductors separated by several miles of atmosphere, practically a perfect insulator, an ideal arrangement for our purposes. We have but to connect a source of current to the earth and to the ionized strata of air and energy can be transmitted entirely around the earth without wires. The energy could be utilized in any part of the earth by merely connecting to the pair of conductors.

This condition has been recognized for some time, but the difficulty lies in making connections to the upper layer of conducting atmosphere. It is hardly practical to construct towers six or seven miles high for the purpose, then again the energy could not be utilized without using a similar structure at the point of reception, which makes this scheme hardly feasible for aircraft or moving vehicles.

Return then to the ionized stream for radio aerials. We can easily construct arcs that will throw a beam ten or twenty miles. Then why not make connection to that upper stratum with an ionized stream of air? Wonderful in its simplicity.

In Fig. 2 the writer attempts to portray a generating station embodying these principles. In the main building will be housed the generating units for supplying the current to the arc and the primary of the high voltage apparatus for transmission of energy. Supported on the roof of this structure will be a monstrous arc lamp capable of throwing a stream of ultra violet rays for at least ten miles. In this beam is supported a conducting screen to make connection to the conducting stream of ionized air. The insulation of these parts present no great difficulties to modern engineering.

The building will also house a huge step-up transformer, a set of high voltage condensers, a spark gap either of the rotary or quenched type and a huge oscillation transformer or Tesla coil. These instruments are connected in the usual manner and tuned so that the inductance in the circuit and the capacity formed by the earth and ionized upper strata will have a well defined oscillation period.

By these means the whole earth will become an electrified body, energy to be drawn at any point by simply making metallic connection to the earth and pointing a beam of light vertically, a screen being used to take the energy that will flow down the beam. An inductance coil being necessary in the circuit to insure resonance with the transmitter at the receiving set. After once started, the receiving energy can be used to keep the arc going.

Ships will have an arc and reflector mounted on the masts, airplanes have two arcs, one on top, the other below, and so on.

This scheme will not interfere with present short range transmission, it being hardly practical for each home to have an arc on the roof when one arc would serve for a town and several for a large city.

Rather its benefit will lie in the utilization of water falls far form civilization, now unused on account of difficulties in transmitting the power hundreds or thousands of miles.

Aside from the transmission of power other advantages may accrue. Will such a stress between the earth and upper air strata reduce the presence of dust particles in the atmosphere? Or, again, cause the immediate condensation of fogs and moisture in the air to give us perfectly cloudless days? Perhaps it will become simply a matter of changing the frequency or voltage of the current to cause rain or to prevent it.

Then the question of effect on radio communication: will it make our present sets obsolete, a transmitter of the future being connected directly to the power set and acting by superimposing different frequencies on the power frequency? Or will radio-telephony work hand in hand with the power system, the voice currents being imprest on the power circuit and filtered out at the receiver?

There are thousand and one things such an arrangement might effect. Will trees and vegetation increase in growth as experiments in electrical culture would indicate? What effect would such stresses have on germs and bacilli? Their numbers will be decreased by the destructive effects of the ultra-violet light. Will man grow to an unsuspected height and become uniformly healthier due to the electrical treatment he would be constantly undergoing?

And so on – conjuncture  in without bounds, but the scheme is practical to all appearances; it requires but some financial genius to give it a trial.

And to think it all was within reach such a short time ago! Had Tesla but put a gigantic arc on top of the tower of his experimental station in Long Island accurate data would be at hand now – were it but even a promise it would mean another step towards the final mastery of all matter by man.