A Facebook post (archived here) claims visionary inventor Nikola Tesla found the secret to free energy and was about to give it to the world as a gift when the US government put a stop to it by destroying his Wardenclyffe tower project.
However, this claim distorts the purpose of Tesla’s work, with experts telling AAP FactCheck there is no such thing as “free energy” and he never experimented with electricity generation.
Tesla’s intention for Wardenclyffe tower was to create a way to transmit electricity wirelessly, but he was unable to prove it at a mass scale and eventually was forced to abandon the project as his debts piled up.
The post on the Nikola Tesla facts and quotes Facebook page reads: “On July 4, 1917, Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe tower on Long Island, New York, was demolished by the federal government when they found out he was planning to give the world FREE ENERGY as a gift. They censored Tesla using the newspapers they controlled.
“He was one of the most important inventors of all the time (sic), and they never taught you about him in schools and this is solely because they don’t want you digging about Free energy.”
He garnered wealth and acclaim in the US for developing an electric polyphase motor that ran on alternating current, a format of electricity preferred to direct current for its superior ability to transmit power over long distances.
But his experiments in wireless electricity transmission proved less fruitful.
The impressive structure was completed in 1905 and consisted of a 55-ton steel hemisphere atop a 57-metre tall wooden lattice tower which rose out of a red brick laboratory Tesla intended for electrical experiments.
However, science history expert Professor Iwan Morus, from Aberystwyth University in Wales, says Tesla never planned to create free energy with the tower.
“Wardenclyffe was designed to transmit energy, not generate it,” Prof Morus told AAP FactCheck in an email.
“Tesla’s idea was that he would be able to transmit energy through the Earth and that it could be recovered at any point on the surface where there was another receiver. The electricity for all this was generated conventionally – so steam-powered dynamos.”
Prof Morus said the US government didn’t demolish the tower but it was instead sold off to help pay Tesla’s numerous debts, “particularly his extravagant hotel bills”.
Dr Jovanović said the project was aimed at developing wireless transfer of energy, not about the production of free energy.
Dr Deepak Mishra, an electrical engineering researcher at UNSW Sydney, told AAP FactCheck: “No, there is nothing as ‘free energy’ in the literal sense.”
While wireless electricity transmission is possible, as proved by commercial use cases available today such as wireless phone chargers, Tesla was never able to prove the technology at the large scale he envisaged.
Wireless transmission suffers from low efficiency compared to wired transmission lines and requires stringent coupling conditions to be met, Dr Mishra said in an email.
In other words, the amount of electricity lost into the atmosphere by Tesla’s tower was too significant to be an effective means of energy transfer.
Tesla is regarded as a revolutionary thinker and one of the outstanding minds of his time but the mythology he helped create sometimes obscured the reality of the man, according to Prof Morus.
“That image of the inventor as the eccentric outsider that he helped create is just as important (as his polyphase motor),” he said in a 2020 interview with Physics Today.
“It’s a powerful, seductive, and insidious image that still haunts the way we think about science and technology today. It feeds the view that scientific and technological advancements come from the inspiration of powerful and iconoclastic individuals rather than the hard work of many.”
The claim Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe tower was destroyed by the US government to prevent his gift of “free energy” is false. Tesla never intended on creating free energy but was instead attempting to invent wireless transmission of electricity. Wardenclyffe tower was sold off to pay for Tesla’s debts.
False – The claim is inaccurate.