Can these rocks really power light bulbs? No, say the experts

The light is on. But why?

Videos showing rocks found in Africa can produce electricity have been viewed millions of times online.

Some social media users claim they could be the answer to the continent’s energy problems.

That’s a big claim, so we showed the footage to experts who explained to us why such properties are highly unlikely.

Sparks fly in viral videos

One of the most shared videos seems to show electric sparks fly between two rocks when they come into contact.

Tweet with two stones, sparks in between.  Caption: Electrically charged rocks discovered in the DRC, now more trouble is coming, cry my beloved Africa

The hitting rocks seem to generate a spark, but what is the source of the energy?

It was shared by, among others, South African businessman Daniel Marven, who has more than 800,000 followers. His tweet has since been viewed more than two million times.

Another Twitter user responded to Mr Marven’s post with another video of a man apparently lighting up an LED bulb by touching wires that connect it to a small piece of rock.

Marven also posted this video a few hours later, with over a million views.

Video recording of a man apparently lighting an LED light using wires from a chunk of rock

Video recording of a man apparently lighting an LED light using wires from a chunk of rock

The reference to “Wakanda” in this post refers to a highly successful fictional African kingdom rich in vibranium, a metal with magical properties.

The Marvel comic book superhero Black Panther wears a suit made of vibranium, which has the ability to store and release large amounts of energy.

Both videos were picked up and used in a thread by the popular Twitter page, African Archives. This went viral, with over 35 million views.

Where are the videos shot?

In the footage of a man shown lighting an electric lamp, apparently using a rock, a voice can be heard speaking Swahili with a DR Congo accent.

Featuring the video of the two flashing rocks, a reverse image search reveals it appeared on the Facebook page of Mohamed First University in Morocco, Oujda, earlier in November last year — though the original video itself may have been uploaded earlier.

The caption simply says “Lithium!!?” but without further details. The BBC has contacted the university but has not yet received a response.

A subsequent Twitter post claims these sparking stones were found in Zimbabwe, saying this discovery “would help our country to have… sustainable energy.”

Zimbabwe is Africa’s largest producer of lithium, a metallic element widely used in the production of batteries for electric cars and mobile devices.

Can electricity be generated from stones?

“I am very skeptical that these videos represent free electrical energy,” says Professor Stuart Haszeldine from the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh.

“I’ve never seen anything like this geologically and suggests the rocks are connected to electrical power sources that are not included in the tightly boxed video footage.”

He says the presence of what looks like a gloved hand in the lower part of the video showing the sparking rocks is very revealing.

A gloved hand can be clearly seen in this video screenshot that claims to show electrically charged rocks

A gloved hand can be clearly seen in this video screenshot. Why is it there?

This indicates, he suggests, that “current flows from the dead battery, through the stone held with the glove (so that current does not flow through the gloved hand) and to earth through the second stone”.

Metal ores are good conductors of electricity and the glove is an insulator that prevents current from passing through the person’s body to the ground.

Regarding a video showing an illuminated LED lamp, Prof. Haszeldine says it is suspicious “because there are three hands (two people) involved in the demonstration”.

“It seems to me that current flows when two hands touch, and the threads are mostly illusion. So it might be just as interesting to have a magician take a closer look and see if any ruse of deception can be spotted .”

A screenshot of the video shows a moment where the bulb stays on even though one of the wires has come loose from the rock, a further indication that the rock has nothing to do with the circuit.

Screen grab video of rock with light bulb

The lamp stays on even if the wire does not touch the stone. Is this a clue?

The real power behind Congo’s minerals

The DR Congo produces a wealth of valuable mineral ores, including coltan (columbite-tantalite).

According to Dr. Munira Raji of Plymouth University in the UK, coltan yields metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge when refined.

These properties make it invaluable in the manufacture of components used in mobile phones, laptops and other electronics.

Dr. Raji says it’s not possible to confirm if any of the rocks shown in the videos are coltan without testing them in the geology lab, but even if they were, they can’t generate electricity on their own.

In that sense, she says, the claims that these rocks can produce electricity are wrong.

Mineral ore held in two hands

Tantalum from coltan mined in DR Congo is vital to the manufacture of mobile phones

Dr. Ikenna Okonkwo, a geology lecturer at the University of Nigeria, also watched the videos for us. He says the rocks look more like zinc or lead ore. And these ores, he says, certainly don’t have the ability to power a lamp.

“Maybe [they could hold] static electricity of the kind found in some fabrics, but it doesn’t keep an LED light powered.” The videos, says Dr. Okonkwo, do indeed appear to be “some sort of trick”.

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