Dutch company harnessing electricity from living plants.
The Dutch company Plant-e, is using living plants to power more than 300 streetlights, WiFi hotspots, and cell phone chargers. The “Starry Sky” project started in November 2014 by Plant-e near Amsterdam in an old ammunition site called HAMburg.
Many researchers are looking for ways to basically generate electricity from thin air, and this idea is similar. Plant-e’s founders looked to the natural world 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 featuring clocks run by potatoes. 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.
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.
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.