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The earth is warmer than outer space so heat would be conducted up the bars along with an electric current.
Then, all that would be needed is a very long power cord to connect the two ends of the metal bars to a motor.
Research Nikola Tesla carried out during his second creative period and the resulting devices that were the basis for his assertion of fuelless electrical generation will be examined.
Whether Tesla's fuelless generator was a "perpetual motion scheme" of the sort his teacher warned him against, or a creative application of recognized natural phenomena will be discussed.
The exact title of the chapter where he discusses this device is worth giving in its entirety: A DEPARTURE FROM KNOWN METHODS - POSSIBILITY OF A "SELF ACTING" ENGINE OR MACHINE, INANIMATE, YET CAPABLE, LIKE AN LIVING BEING, OF DERIVING ENERGY FROM THE MEDIUM - THE IDEAL WAY OF OBTAINING MOTIVE POWER Tesla stated he first started thinking about the idea when he read a statement by Lord Kelvin who said it was impossible to build a mechanism capable of abstracting heat from the surrounding medium and to operate by that heat.
As a thought experiment Tesla envisioned a very long bundle of metal rods, extending from the earth to outer space.
Then: The sun, as well as other sources of radiant energy, throw off minute particles of matter positively electrified, which, impinging upon [the upper] plate, communicate continuously an electrical charge to the same.
In the 1880's, Nikola Tesla invented the alternating current system we use today.
By the 1890's, he was working on a new type of electrical generator that would not "consume any fuel." This paper documents where in his writings the description of this new generator is found, a theory of how a fuelless generator could work and a suggestion as to how Tesla's new device might have operated.
The opposite terminal of the condenser being connected to ground, which may be considered as a vast reservoir of negative electricity, a feeble current flows continuously into the condenser and inasmuch as the particles are ...
charged to a very high potential, this charging of the condenser may continue, as I have actually observed, almost indefinitely, even to the point of rupturing the dielectric.
More precise information is available through his correspondence in the Columbia University Library's collection. Johnson, editor of Century Magazine, Tesla included a clipping from the previous day's New York Herald about a Clemente Figueras, a "woods and forest engineer" in Las Palmas, capital of the Canary Islands, who had invented a device for generating electricity without burning fuel.