Professors Daniel Kwok and Larry Kostiuk at the University of Alberta reported in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering a new way of producing electric power by harnessing the electrokinetic properties of ordinary tap water, when pumped through miniscule channels.

The method is based on the understanding that when a glass container is filled with water, the glass develops a tiny electric charge while the water takes on the opposite charge.

The Canadian researchers theorised that if the water was continually pumped through tiny glass tubes, the water would continually sweep away the tiny charge and generate an electric current.

Bulb power

This they proved by lighting a run-of-the-mill household bulb.

“Its best first application might be in the field of micro-electronic mechanical systems, like labs which are being built on computer chips which require power” 

Jon Gibbins 
Imperial College London  

“This discovery has a huge number of possible applications,” Kostiuk said. “It could be a new alternative energy source to rival wind and solar power, although this would need huge bodies of water to work on a commercial scale.”

University of Alberta Dean of the Faculty of Engineering David T Lynch described the discovery as “an entirely new way of producing power ... an incredible fundamental research breakthrough that occurs only once in a lifetime.”

Still science being science, the scheme has generated a wide array of reactions.

Some experts argue that it would take more power to generate the movement of the water than would be produced.

The pair of professors has applied for a patent on the idea.