Why you shouldn’t fall for these videos of electrically charged stones from the DRC
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Did someone really discover rocks capable of generating electricity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)? That’s what some people have been claiming after seeing two videos that have been circulating on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp since January 21, 2023. However, our team spoke to several geologists who cast doubt on these videos. While some rocks can conduct electricity, none can create it, they said.
If you only have a minute…
- Two videos that allegedly show “electrically charged stones discovered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” have been circulating since January 20, 2023 on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. In the video, it looks like the rocks alone are capable of lighting up a lamp or creating a spark.
- Our team spoke to several geologists who all said that no rocks can generate electricity by themselves.
- However, they did say that it is possible that the stone in the video is pyrite, a metallic stone that can conduct an electrical current, perhaps generated by another source of energy located off-screen.
The fact-check, in detail
It’s "a revolutionary discovery", or so say two videos that have been circulating since January 20, 2023 on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp claiming that stones able to generate electricity have been unearthed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A number of readers sent our team these videos, asking us to investigate.
The first video, which garnered more than 12 million views shows a man touching two ends of a wire to a stone. A tiny lightbulb connected to the wire then lights up.
The second video, which has garnered more than two million views, shows someone striking two stones together and creating a spark.
Many people who shared the videos said the stones could possibly become future energy sources for the country.
"Some experts are saying two stones can power a two-bedroom [home] for two months with the electrical energy,” says this tweet. Another user wrote that the stones could be a “game-changer”: “who knows, those stones might turn out to be the energy to drive vehicles, planes, trains, and even the supply of light, in future [sic].”
A number of people also shared these videos along with calls for Western powers to stop stealing the continent’s resources.
"Stop letting others come in and get rich off your land, #export precious metals to the world yourselves dammit!” wrote this user.
As for the stones in question, some users (like this one or this one, for example) called it "vibranium", a stone that appears in the fictitious works set in the Marvel Universe, like "Black Panther". It is said to come from the imaginary kingdom of Wakanda and can apparently absorb energy.
Unknown origins of the videos
According to some users, these stones were discovered in Manono, a town located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There’s actually been a conflict playing out in the area between the Congolese government and a mining company around the exploitation of a lithium deposit.
In the first video, you can hear people speaking Swahili, which is one of the official languages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The second video appears in a Facebook post shared on November 24, 2022 by Mohammed Premier d'Oujda University in Morocco. "Lithium?" reads the caption.
However, there is no information in the video that allows us to determine where the videos were filmed. For the time being, no one has traveled to the area named in some of the posts to determine the veracity of the claims.
What makes this all the more complicated is that other accounts have said the stones are from different places. This post, shared on January 21, 2023, says that the stones were discovered by the Munyati river in Zimbabwe.
Is it possible these energy-generating rocks are real?
Our team spoke to five different geologists. All five said they didn’t think there was any chance of a stone generating electricity like the ones shown in the videos.
"There’s no material on earth that can generate electricity by itself,” said Samuel Angiboust, a geologist at the École normale supérieure university in Lyon, France.
"If a stone receives an electrical charge, then it will lose that charge, just like a battery slowly loses its charge. A stone can’t keep recharging itself,” says Alexandre Schubnel, the director of the geology lab at the École normale supérieure university in Paris.
Batteries have a positive and a negative terminal which create a chemical reaction needed to create an electrical current. However, stones don’t have the same make-up and thus can’t produce a current.
There are only a few very specific cases when materials can generate electricity.
"Some crystals have piezoelectrical properties [Editor’s note: piezoelectricity is the electrical charge that can accumulate in some solid materials]. For example, quartz can be used as a source of electricity in watches. However, the crystal needs to be under applied mechanical stress in order to generate a current, which is extremely low tension and wouldn’t create a spark like shown in the videos,” says Samuel Angiboust.
Stones that conduct electricity
Some stones, however, can conduct electricity. And several experts hypothesised that this is what is actually happening in the videos.
Samuel Angiboust says that the stone in the video might be pyrite, a metal-rich mineral also known as “fool’s good”. Pyrite can’t produce electricity, but it is a very good conductor.
While the video makes it look like the current is coming from the stone, a stone like pyrite would actually only be able to conduct the current.
Several geologists pointed out that the light you see in the second video looks like something you might see during arc welding, a welding process used to join metal to metal by using electricity to create enough heat to melt both metals. When they cool, they are then bound together.
You can see in the video that the person handling the stones is wearing thick gloves, perhaps to protect themselves from the heat generated in this process.
But where is the real source of current located then? The specialists who we contacted said that there might be a battery hidden inside the rock or in the hands of the person handling the rocks.
The geologists we interviewed noted that the entire video is filmed as a close shot, which means that it is quite possible for something to be happening off-camera or away from our field of vision.
Our colleagues at the BBC also studied these videos, as well as another one filmed in Zimbabwe and came to similar conclusions, pointing out several discrepancies in the videos.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is sometimes called a "geological scandal" because of its richness in mineral resources. The nation is the leading global producer of cobalt and the leading producer of copper on the African continent.
However, this richness does little to help most Congolese people as the country’s mining code is very advantageous to foreign investors.