Electricity-Generating Plants to Bring Clean Energy to Off-Grid Locations
by Julie M. Rodriguez / 03/19/14
A Dutch start-up called Plant-e has developed a way to use living plants as a continuous source of clean energy – all that’s needed is a light source, carbon dioxide, water, and, of course, a field or patch of plants. 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.
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. That organic matter gets munched on by microorganisms living in the soil, which release electrons as a byproduct of this consumption. By placing an electrode near the roots, it’s easy to harvest this waste energy and turn it into electricity. The process is similar to elementary school science 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. 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. A prototype green roof using this technology is already being tested in the Netherlands. Currently, the Plant-e team is able to generate 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.
Stanford researchers harvest electricity from algae, unkempt pools become gold mines
by Joseph L. Flatley / April 15 2010
While we’ve seen plenty of stabs at viable green energy, from underwater turbines to the Bloom Box, we’re always up for another. Running along the same lines as Uppsala University’s algae-based batteries, researchers at Stanford are generating electrical current by tapping into the electron activity of individual algae cells. The team designed a gold electrode that can be pushed through a cell membrane, which then seals around it. The cell, still alive, does what it does best (photosynthesis), at which point scientists harvest chemical energy in the form of electrons. According to Stanford University News, this results in “electricity production that doesn’t release carbon into the atmosphere. The only byproducts of photosynthesis are protons and oxygen.”
JUST ADD ELECTRODES
Scientists Discover Methods of Harvesting Electricity from Plants
by Morgana Matus, 05/09/13
When it comes to capturing solar energy, plants are first in their class. Able to function at nearly 100 percent quantum efficiency, they can produce an equal number of electrons for each photon captured. Using these photons to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, the resulting electrons are able to create sugars that help the plant to live and reproduce. Researchers at the University of Georgia have developed a way to harness the power of the photosynthetic process to generate a clean form of electricity. Ramaraja Ramasamy, assistant professor in the UGA College of Engineering, explained how his team manipulated the biology for human advantage. During photosynthesis, electrons freed from water molecules go towards producing sugars for the plant’s survival. Structures within the plant cell called “thylakoids” store the energy from the sun. The scientists were able to alter proteins within the thylakoids to interrupt the pathway along which electrons flow, placing the thylakoids against a backing of carbon nanotubules 50,000 times finer than a human hair. Acting as an electrical conductor, the nanotubules were able to take the electrons from the plant and move them along a wire. During experiments, the process resulted in current levels that were twice the power of current systems. While more work needs to be done to bring the technology to market level, the developments could potentially improve the function of solar panels, remote sensors, and other electronic equipment. “Clean energy is the need of the century,” said Ramasamy. “This approach may one day transform our ability to generate cleaner power from sunlight using plant-based systems.” Instead of noisy generators, turbines, or coal-fire stations, it is possible that we may one day have real “power plants” in our neighborhoods.
Table Lamp Powered Completely by Tomatoes
by Kristi Bernick / 04/15/10
We all know tomatoes pack a powerful acidic punch, but we never thought we’d see one lighting up a room! Cygalle Shapiro of Israel-based d-VISION has created an incredible LED lamp that is completely powered by real, edible tomatoes. Currently exhibited at the Milan Furniture Fair, the design collects energy from a chemical reaction between tomato acids, zinc, and copper. This design doesn’t only explore advances in lighting technology – its also an art piece that sends clear and powerful social-conscience messages about where and how we receive energy.
d-VISION‘s tomato lamp calls attention to the amount of natural resources needed to produce even the smallest amount of power for everyday living. Although the tomato lamp utilizes an organic energy source, it still takes a considerately large amount of tomatoes just to power one lamp. The lamp holds power until the tomatoes go stale, signaling a beginning and end to energy sources. The designer highlights value by creating the tomato-powered circuits and lamp completely out of gold.