In the early 1900s, one of Europe’s greatest innovators began experimenting with the idea of generating electricity from the air, harnessing the natural electrical charges that exist all around us. Nikola Tesla never made that dream a reality, but now a new set of Europeans say they’re close to achieving what he couldn’t.
CascataChuva — a Portugal-based startup founded by two Ukrainian twins and their mother — is developing “humidity-to-electricity” technology that it says could sustainably power a whole household with a single washing machine-sized device.
“We’re very inspired by Nikola Tesla — when we started our research on this we read his very first papers on these ideas that he published in the 1900s,” says Andriy Lyubchyk, CascataChuva’s cofounder and CEO. “We’re trying to implement things in a different way, but the general idea is similar.”
Same ideas, new tech
While Tesla was planning to wirelessly transmit power around the world using a network of huge metal towers, CascataChuva is working on a much smaller scale.
The startup’s team has developed a nanomaterial that — in very simple terms — traps water molecules in the air and forces them to flow through nanoscopic channels, generating an electrical charge.
The team has built a 4cm-diameter version of the device, which can power an LED light. But Lyubchyk says that, by 2024, it hopes to have built a one-metre-cubed device that can passively generate 10 kilowatt-hours of electricity a day.
That’s enough to power a 150 square-metre household — "apart from electric car charging” he tells Sifted.
Lyubchyk estimates that the device will cost €14k-18k including installation, but that the price will come down as the company increases its production capacity.
The details of CascataChuva’s research haven’t been peer-reviewed or published in full online, creating some doubt from peers over the plausibility of its tech, but the startup — which is currently looking for seed funding — has already attracted institutional backing.
While CascataChuva was only launched in 2022, it’s the commercial culmination of more than a decade of research. Cofounder and materials scientist Svitlana Lyubchyk (Andriy’s mother) tells Sifted that she's been working on this research since 2012, and received a grant from the EU’s Horizon 2020 project in 2014: “That got us our first patent.”
Today the research is supported by the European Innovation Council, via a project called Catcher — a consortium of research institutions and companies working on “hygroelectricity”, the term for creating electricity out of humidity.
Andriy says that there are academic teams working on hygroelectricity around the world, in the US, China, Singapore and Australia. He does point out that — even if CascataChuva’s prototype works as planned — it won’t be useful everywhere, such as in freezing cold temperatures where there’s no liquid water in the air.
But if the startup can commercialise its technology successfully, its humidity-to-electricity generators could become an important part of a diverse green energy grid.