This Incredible Dutch Technology Generates Electricity From Living Plants
A Dutch start-up called Plant-e harnesses electricity from living plants, and then uses it to power cell phone chargers, Wi-Fi hotspots, and now over 300 LED streetlights in two sites in the Netherlands. Plant-e debuted its “Starry Sky” project in November 2014 at an old ammunition site called HAMbrug, near Amsterdam, and plant power is also being used near the company’s headquarters in Wageningen.
Plant-e’s founders looked to natures “ecological internet” and asked where lost energy could be harnessed and used by humans. They found it in the byproduct of photosynthesis in plants. Plant-e’s plant power modules could mark the dawn of the next revolution in clean energy.
Harvesting energy from growing plants has come a long way since middle school science fair projects that create a battery out of an apple or potato, but with the added benefit of leaving the plants completely unharmed by the process. Plant-e’s approach is built on the same principle, but is radically different because it does not require damaging the plant in order to harness its energy.
Not only can electricity be generated without harming the plant, but the amount of electricity is actually quite substantial. Tests have shown that the plants will continue to grow normally in the presence of electrodes, providing a constant source of power day and night.
How does it work?
For the Netherlands streetlight projects, Plant-e’s electricity generation process involves plants growing in two-square-foot plastic containers. Plants undergo photosynthesis, essential turning solar power into sugars. As they grow, plants always produce more sugars than they need, and the excess is cast out through their roots into the surrounding soil and break down into protons and electrons. Plant-e’s system uses electrodes in the soil to await the breakdown of this plant waste, thus conducting electricity.
As Next Nature reports, the theory behind the Plant-e system is surprisingly simple. When plants create food using photosynthesis, a large portion of the organic matter generated is actually excreted by the roots into the soil.
Based on natural processes, electrons are harvested from the soil and electricity is produced while plants continue to grow! It might sound too good to be true, but it absolutely is not.
When a plant creates food using photosynthesis, a large portion of the organic matter generated is actually excreted by the roots into the soil. That same organic matter then gets consumed by microorganisms living in the soil, which release electrons as a byproduct of this consumption. By placing an electrode near the roots, it then becomes easy to harvest this waste energy and turn it into electricity.
Company founders hope that their technology will someday be used to provide power in poor areas of the world where plant life is abundant, such as in rice paddies or near wetlands. If they can figure out how to do this in a cost-effective way, it means that this new clean energy could bring electricity to people who have never had it which, by current estimates, is nearly 25 percent of the world’s population.
As shown in the video above, the system works best in wetlands or watery fields like rice paddies, but it doesn’t matter if the water is brackish or polluted, so areas unsuitable for growing crops could be repurposed as a power source.
There’s no complicated infrastructure to install, which makes it super easy to bring electricity to isolated regions that are currently without power. Combined with lamps powered by salt water, off-grid locations may have access to sustainable energy sooner than predicted!
At present, a prototype green roof utilizing this technology is already being developed and tested in the Netherlands. If all goes well, the Plant-e team will be able to generate not only enough energy to power a cell phone, but the hope is that soon this method will be able to harvest a significant amount of electricity — maybe even enough to power a house or eventually the world — but time will no doubt allow the company to perfect its process.
The amount of renewable energy sources being developed is astonishing; perhaps very soon in the near future technologies like solar and wind power may be merged with a system like this, completely eliminating humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels.