The Electrostatic Turbine: Basic & Updated, Enhanced Versions

Picture of The Electrostatic Turbine: Basic & Updated, Enhanced Versions
     Static electricity is high voltage (HV) at low current. That unexpected ZAP! occurring when you walk across a carpet and touch a metal object demonstrates HV conduction by ionized air particles. Ion wind turbines use electrostatic forces acting between these particles to produce mechanical movement.

     I decided to go green by making this desk-top project from mostly dollar-store hardware; re-purposed plastic, cardboard and aluminum disposables from my kitchen recycling bin as well as some curbside junk from the neighbors next door. The turbine uses foil electrodes that encircle a plastic, tubular rotor. Each electrode has a sharp edge that sprays a stream of positive or negative ions on the rotor's surface. When these electrodes are arranged so they alternate in polarity around the rotor, each electrode repels a rotor segment carrying the same charge and simultaneously attracts that rotor segment carrying charges deposited by the preceding electrode.

     Many sources of static electricity --from old CRT screens that "crackle and pop" when powered up, to room air ionizers -- will spin a reasonably well constructed turbine. You can view an enhanced version, constructed from better components and featured on this page w/the basic version, in operation here:

     The tools required for this project are a(n): marking pencil; felt tip pen; ruler; compass; protractor; utility scissors; metal saw; desktop paper punch; high speed electric drill with 1/32,” 1/8 “ and 1/4 “ bits; assorted grit sandpapers; sanding block; miniature hobby file and some Gorilla Glue. In addition to the parts listed in STEP 1 you will need a rubber band as well as rolls of paper and cellophane tapes.

     Unlike many DIY electrostatic motors that creep along at hundreds of RPM, this bad boy can spool up to thousands of RPM in only seconds when sufficiently powered. Work carefully and don’t forget the safety glasses! Also, operate the turbine in a ventilated area if you smell ozone gas. So let's begin...

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Zanderist16 days ago

I just want to put an idea out there, I looked into Jefimenko, and I was wondering if the concept of drawing electricity from the air could be applied to a hydrogen fuel cell. I know that this post isn't in spirit of what this build is about. But I'm thinking in terms of upping efficiency, as opposed to using electricity to directly run a motor use it to produce a better energy source and have it drive a small modified motor.

Again I don't feel that this post relates totally to what this build is, but its an idea I want to put out there for anyone reading. I just want to see a successful build of a motor that's powered by the atmosphere. It would bridge the Gap between reality and science fiction.

kristahiles2 months ago

Oh good, this is a
nice creation. I would myself like to try my hands on it. If it produced
energy I will get back to reply.

I'm thinking maybe then have four units, replace the turbines with gears and have them turn a larger diameter in the middle.

And from what I understand its very low current very high voltage so you can connect the motors in parallel to the circuit and probably maybe a small current draw of under 50mA. (I'm not certain of this)

Probably a large flywheel just to give it initial starting kick that would be spun by hand.

brazilero2008 (author)  Zanderist1 month ago
These motors suffer from serious power loss due to corona leakage as voltage is increased. Four of them connected in parallel would probably require more than 50 mA to run.

I'm working on getting a ES motor to spin a flywheel.
brazilero2008 (author)  kristahiles2 months ago
There is an updated version of the project here:
Good Luck.
Zanderist1 month ago

I thought this type of motor was science fiction.

Anyways I just wanted to say that maybe you could develop more torque if you added smaller cylinders along the outside circumference of the main rotor like a planetary gear drive.

Plantary gear.jpg
brazilero2008 (author)  Zanderist1 month ago
A knife edge is still required to produce a corona discharge between each HV electrode and the rotor's surface; otherwise, you're correct. There is too much stray leakage from the ends of the electrodes which caused the internal arcing in this demo vid:
mobuto3 years ago
so it takes static electricity from the air?

Check out the Oxford Bell

Also check out

Just like a hydro electric dam taps into the energy produced by the condensation cycle and gravity we can tap into the electric field potential and drive a capacitor motor or a Tank Circuit coupled to a motor which drives a gen set, or think piezoelectric transformer.

The biggest challenge to make it practical is new materials. Air is a great conductor at high voltages.

A neat idea would to build off the ideas using modern materials and thinking.

For example: Harvest the potential and use it to oscillate a piezoelectric stack inside a tubed ring with a pressurized gas such as helium, and then embed heat pipes in a porous stack which has pyroelectric sensors or you could go the magnetostrictive route and use terfenol D. This would work much like the accoustic refrigeration. The vibration would cause changes in temperature and if you also had small slat plate heat exchangers connected to the thermal stacks which have the pyroelectric sensors embeded in them. Then you could have a small package which harvested both the electric field and thermal variations simultaneously. You want it in a ring so the resonance synchronizes all the thermal stacks with the pyroelectric sensors.

Try it out and you will be surprised.

Like any type of Stirling engine the higher the pressure the more mechanical energy per stroke, the temp difference sets how many strokes in a given time.

So whereas with piezoelectric we want to be in the ultrasound region for best power harvesting, with terfenol D you will want higher pressure and a bit lower frequency. If you had a constant source of temperature say the ground at 60 feet then you could couple a heat pipe to the ground and insulate it to an insulated container with a thermal fluid and attache a heat pipe from there to your ring. Then use a refrigerant like ethane and have it at rest at the pressure and temp where one K condense or vaporizes it. This would set you up for the greatest changes in pressure and frequency and rate changes in temperature.

Pyroelectric like piezo electric want high rates of change. Where as the Seebeck effect wants a large temp differential. With conventional stirling engines we want the highest pressure which yields the greatest mechanical force per stroke and aids in the speed of thermal transport through the gas, and the greatest temp differential so we can have a high number of strokes in a given time period.
brazilero2008 (author)  KimberlyP2 years ago
Good ideas; so I'll just respond to one. I'm planning to use a box kite to lift 200 m of HV cable into the air. The voltage gradient from an earth ground to a point above ground is ~100 V/m. A cable suspended at that height should supply ~20 kV (on a good day), which is sufficient to power the motor. Will post results as an i'ble when available. Ck out this site for more details:
Remember to bias the tips of your antenna, and ground it.

Jefimenko achieved 1/4 hp it would be interesting to see what you or others achieve using modern materials and different approaches to harvesting the same field.

As Feynman used to say, attack the problem from a different angle!
brazilero2008 (author)  KimberlyP2 years ago
I plan to try this on the shore with one lead attached to the HV cable, the other grounded in wet sand (can't get closer to earth than that!).
Hello dear brazilero2008. Did you achieve your project in harvesting air energy?
brazilero2008 (author)  Khwartz3 months ago
No, not yet. My box kite for lifting a high voltage cable broke. :>(
Khwartz3 months ago
Hello Again, dear brazilero2008.

After having go though near all comments, still would like to know how much power you get with the motor; what would be its efficiency?

brazilero2008 (author)  Khwartz3 months ago
I calculated power & efficiency for a similar turbine here:
Low quality rotor bearings used in this project wasted energy; also, taping the rotor made the surface uneven causing the electrode gap to be too large. (I think of the design as a nice piece of art, despite its poor performance. :>D)
whitepaper_015 months ago
WoW !!
great work.
Made one. works as per your specs
(now for some experiments)
Edgar1 year ago
Good job, as usual.
Oddly enough, a couple of Brazilian Teachers asked me for ideas for School Projects, going to send them this Link, too! :)
brazilero2008 (author)  Edgar1 year ago
I appreciate the + feedback. Stay tuned for some interesting DYI school projects in the near future...
arsha721281 year ago
Could you take the wind turbine and convert the spinning into wind energy?If thats what this project is about sorry I am not familiar with this type of electronics.
brazilero2008 (author)  arsha721281 year ago
The project will produce a draft of wind if you attach a prop; but it would just be a fancy desk fan.
brazilero2008 (author)  arsha721281 year ago
Actually I realized that I named the project incorrectly when applying the stencils. It should read: Electric Turbine. It is not related to wind energy.
rickyt2 years ago

Thanks for the Electrostatic Turbine info, I am from the Pacific Islands and am building one following your instructions. Could you give me some instructions on your power supply to drive the motor?
brazilero2008 (author)  rickyt2 years ago
Sure. I got fair results w/a small VdG generator. Output was 50 kV at 1.5 uA. Performance is better using a hi voltage DC air purifier due to the higher current output. Best performance was w/one of these industrial electrostatic generators (
maryfinny3 years ago
the blind leading the blind
Consider what it has already done
such as
inspired thought and communitation
questions w/wo answers
entertainment yes and even dissapointment
Bill K
brazilero2008 (author)  maryfinny3 years ago
Concerning "inspired thought & communication," the late Dr. Oleg Jefimenko, the modern day father of electrostatic motors, rarely received enough credit for his ingenious ideas.
I would agree. Like many scientists and innovators before him.

The consequence of commercial science is that it has become political.

It has become too easy for some to dismiss new ideas, rather than to examine them from a scientific and experimental standpoint.

Nano materials today would make Dr. Jefimenko's motors that much better.

I think any one who builds upon his work using materials science has an exciting future ahead of them.
The thing is it isnt dismissed,I believe it to be more of a threat,the powers that be want us dependent on fossil fuels because of the money they make and the power it brings.They already know how to harvest the power of clean,free energy.The free part is what they dont like. Of course you know that.
brazilero2008 (author)  spylock2 years ago
Valid point. There are promoters of fossil fuels who say that alternative energy is the energy of the future...and always will be.
When did Dr Jefimenko pass away? I received a copy from him of one of his out of print books in 2008.

He demonstrated .24 HP electrostatic motor, from the air and the ground.

Think of the potential using todays material science?

One should be able to do even more.

Dr. Jefimenko's work will live on with all those whom he inspired, and his generosity which touched so many.
brazilero2008 (author)  KimberlyP2 years ago
His work on electostatic motors that appeared in Popular Sciece back in '71 made a lasting impression on me.
Edgar2 years ago
Just Blogged it:
brazilero2008 (author)  Edgar2 years ago
Impressive site!
Thanks, I like to share good news...
brazilero2008 (author)  Edgar2 years ago
BTW, the original concept for an electrostatic turbine came from this Russian tech journal published in 09/1957 (fortunately, the graphics are self-explanatory :).
Tekhnika Molodezhi Cover_09 1958.jpg
...For you, they're self-explanatory! I never got that far. 8.
It's a good deal of work, to take an image and turn it into something that works..
paqrat3 years ago
I apologize if this question sounds stupid. I prefer to think of it as ignorant. Why is a power source needed if the whole thing runs on static electricity?
brazilero2008 (author)  paqrat3 years ago
   Think of the project as a simple motor. It requires a power source to spin the rotor. The source is a high voltage transformer/multiplier combo (just a mini, DIY room air ionizer) mounted inside of the base.
   Alternative power sources can be used. The rotor will move (slightly) from static electricity produced by walking across a carpet and touching one of the input terminals when the other terminal is grounded.  Van de Graaffs, Wimshursts, etc. would be much better power sources. 
What about powering the motor from static electricity in the atmosphere? Clouds, wind, all produce large amounts of electricity... can't you just "harvest" that power with a static motor to say... pump water? Neat instructable, thanks. I will make one!
brazilero2008 (author)  stringstretcher2 years ago
Atmospheric static should work. Here's a how-to link:
Thank you. That does clear that up. :)

brazilero2008 (author) 2 years ago
BTW, he passed away on May 14, 2009
This is a total macguiver (sp) pwn! 5 STARS!
brazilero2008 (author)  janesycamore3 years ago
That was one of my fav shows too!
Thanks for the stars :)
bogus from the beginning - learn what STATIC ELECTRICITY means
No, not bogus at all. Google eletrostatic motor.

You've probably seen electrostatically charged particles being repulsed by an electrode with the same polarity, and attracted by an electrode with the opposite polarity. This motor works on electrostatic attraction and repulsion, just like a regular electric motor works on magnetic attraction an repulsion.

Briefly, the high voltage "power rods" deposit an electrostatic charge on the surface of the nonconductive rotor. This charge is then repulsed from the power rod and atracted by the neighboring oppositely charged rod, which makes the rotor turn.
He's pointing out that your definition of static electricity as " high voltage (HV) at low current. " is in error. (see for a basic primer on static electricity and how it differs from dynamic electricity)

It's a nice project, and well described, but errors are errors, you should correct them, rather than get defensive.
Not to piss on your parade, but DO NOT cite the Wikipedia as a valid source for debunking ANYTHING. You can cite it's sources, but people like you and me can see something we think is wrong and change it to suit ourselves. It is not a reliable source, and in this case I think it is wrong.
In Physics
of or pertaining to force or power.
of or pertaining to force related to motion.

Lightning is static electrical discharge. It can readily fuse sand into glass, and therefore has demonstrable power. It also ran the turbine, and again demonstrated that it can generate dynamic power.
.  Huh?
.  Wikipedia is, within reason, very accurate. Yes, anyone can change it, but anyone else can fix it. No, it is not the ultimate authority on anything, but it makes for a very handy starting point.
.  What does the definition of "dynamic" have to do with anything? Are you trying to say that somehow that means that the "static" in "static electricity" precludes any power or motion? If so, it doesn't work like that.
.  "Lightning is static electrical discharge." Wait a minute, that's what Wikipedia says! How could it possibly be right? ;)
I did say you could cite Wikipedia's sources, just not it, when debunking myths, and overturning nonsense.

Though I hate to do this, I have to quote myself.
"Lightning is static electrical discharge. It can readily fuse sand into glass, and therefore has demonstrable power. It also ran the turbine, and again demonstrated that it can generate dynamic power."

I was on the side saying that static electricity was a dynamic force. I use the hell out of the Wikipedia, and frequently refer to it as the repository of all human knowledge. It is however flawed, wrong, and outright unusable as a standalone source. You have to check the sources, and make sure of your facts.
.  I think we agree more than we disagree, we're just having problems getting our points across. ;)
.  Of course, no source, by itself, should be considered the final word, but for most discussions on a DIY site, it's an excellent Q&D reference (especially for difinitions that are deeper than most dictionaries provide). It's not the final word and it wouldn't be appropriate on a scientific site, but it's good enough for the girls I go out with.
brazilero2008 (author)  Patrik3 years ago
Well said!
So what exactly does this accomplish does it just move air? what is it powered by because i know it cant just be from air can it?
brazilero2008 (author)  BIGHAIRYDUDE3 years ago
The rotor that spins the fan blade is powered by electricity. In this case, high voltage at low current which we often experience as static shocks during cold, dry days.

Is this process reversible? In other words, can a 'bine generate static electricity from the wind? I tried spinning the blade by hand as fast as possible (to imitate a strong breeze) when the 'bine's inputs were connected to a sensitive ammeter nothing happened... There are better ways to generate HV static anyway.
You are doing it wrong, the motor was not designed to produce electricity. Instead, take a generator and connect the shafts to each other. You are not producing electricity because you have no magnets to move the electrons. Draw your power from the generator. On a side note, how much torque does it produce?
brazilero2008 (author)  xarlock6673 years ago
Don't have actual torque values; but It should turn the shaft of a small DC motor.
A simple test is the measure of how hard it presses at a set distance. Place a lever on the shaft and place it on a scale, measure the slack, then power the motor up. You now know how much torque it produces.
o.k so if you were to do a science fair project on this what would you test... maybe air temperature?
kevgreenan3 years ago
could one go about making this out of CDs?
nel11603 years ago
dewilkins3 years ago
Very interesting! This project brings to mind an electrostatic air filter I once had that used the power of the fan driven air movement to ionize the filter (due to the arrangement of various materials in the filter itself.) It worked reasonable well but was extremely hard to clean - so we went back to microporous disposable air filters.

I am curious if one or more of these electrostatic air filters could be modified to produce a power input to your turbine when exposed to the wind. One could, for example, replace the panels in the back fence with a grid of the appropriate materials and use the accumulated power to run a bug zapper.
brazilero2008 (author)  dewilkins3 years ago
W/o knowing more about this particular air filter design you mentioned I'm on thin ice here; but an output >6,000 volts at 5 uA should turn the rotor.
9ale73 years ago
wooow !!!
people... take it easy !!!

HAHAHAHa, take this:
after i red ur commentz, i well sheck mi sbelling nd make shore (( IT IS THE )) write sbelling.

just kidding
potterrandy3 years ago
More simply put this is a homemade motor, in two phase, that consumes high voltage at lower amperage with a fan attached, and if it were reversed to generate, it would have to be going a whole lot faster to make anything happen.
9ale73 years ago
nice project, and one thing to say,
I would like to see you'res in action, a video would be nice :)
shaawn 9ale73 years ago
Just a little grammer note - if you don't mind : YOUR'S - is the spelling you want -- you've been using (you'res) which usually reads: you are(s)
Actually "yours" is the spelling you want. Your is already possessive so no apostrophe is required. "Your's" would translate to "your is" which is not grammatically correct and doesn't make sense.
Grammar, not grammer. A, not e. Hopefully, some helpful info.
9ale7 9ale73 years ago
Woow is that youtube video you're end project?!
looks amazing :P
kmpres3 years ago
Very interesting, simple, and nicely written! I can imagine myself shipwrecked on a deserted isle with nothing but a book, a pack of chewing gum, a beer can, and a pocket knife and making this. Getting it to do something useful, like powering a low voltage dynamo for running a cheap transistor radio or something would be the next leap in ingenuity but you only need brain power and the will to survive for that. -- Not now, Gilligan!
gafisher3 years ago
Nice project well explained. As for the questions, you're in good company -- you may be sure everyone from Euclid to Edison got his share of "but what's it good for?" comments too.  Electrostatics may well be the power technology of the future -- clean, cheap and available.
Great project- nevermind the dopes who pretend they don't get the concept. All the electrostatic motors I've seen before were just the low speed, low torque things that balanced on a tack on top of a van de Graaf generator. Keep up the good work and remember that great minds are often misunderstood.
endolith3 years ago
So it's just a rotary fan? Why not skip the rotation and just use the electric field to ionize air and move it directly?
brazilero2008 (author)  endolith3 years ago
Kids who watch the project in operation like the cool sounds it makes as it spools up :>). Ion sprays just make boring hissing sounds.
metashade3 years ago
maybe i am being stupid here, but what does this machine do, except for moving air like a regular fan?
brazilero2008 (author)  metashade3 years ago
A fair Q. An electrostatic 'bine is a motor. Many things an electromagnetic motor can do, a 'bine can do.
so it's just a fan?
how did you get 'so it's just a fan?' from 'Many things an electromagnetic motor can do, a 'bine can do.' ... regardless, you should be able to power small projects. you could add a reduction pulley and belt drive instead of the impeller and power... something? I don't have a solid application offhand, but if you need a stationary motor for something with low torque requirements, this may be useful. well, maybe not useful, but interesting, anyway.

of course, this type of motor is best suited to science displays and the like. a possible option would be a human-powered (bicycle) van de graaf powering the turbine coupled via belt drive to a DC generator powering a LED. mostly useless, but looks cool anyway.
MotaBoi3 years ago
Let me get this straight. It is powered by the electricity in the air?
hg341 MotaBoi3 years ago
No it uses electrictiy to move air
sukinmaru hg3413 years ago
lol so do regular fans
More specifically it is the force of the high voltage electrons being spat out of the back like so many high velocity ping pong balls that moves the air.
brazilero2008 (author)  MotaBoi3 years ago
This Q has come up a few times. This 'bine can be powered by the Earth's electric field. Here's the link to the original DIY electrostatic motor i'ble from Popular Science:
chaydgb3 years ago
Great 'ible, but the title is confusing. I (possibly like others) assumed that this was a way of generating electricity through the movement of air, but without moving parts (or something like that) rather than an electrostatic motor driven fan.
nanosec123 years ago
What a fun little project for the kiddies to make for a science fair.......

well maybe only for the well supervised kiddies, with parents that can make sure the HV is properly handled.

Nice write up, 5 of 5 from me.
brazilero2008 (author)  nanosec123 years ago
A low powered 'bine would make a safe kid's project.
Thanks for your support!
lemonie3 years ago

I know what ozone smells like, does this smell nice?

RabidAlien3 years ago
Kiddos, heck, I'm gonna make one for me just because it looks frikkin cool! Great 'Ible!!!

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