While renewables such as wind, solar, hydro and biofuel may be leading the way in terms of sustainable energy uptake, there are still new developments being made in the field, in both big and small ways. We recently wrote about Shell’s Morro da Mineira Project, a soccer pitch that captures the energy of players and uses it to sustainably power floodlights at nighttime. Now researchers in the Netherlands are working on a technique called Plant-e, which converts energy from growing plantlife and bacteria systems into electricity, turning crop fields into power sources.
The technology captures energy that already occurs in the natural processes of water-based plantlife. The plants take in solar energy through photosynthesis, and waste products from the reaction are delivered into the waterlogged soil. There, micro-organisms break down the material and release electrons and protons that can be picked up by an anode and cathode to produce an electrical charge. According to the researchers, plant growth isn’t compromised at all by the technique.
After developing its product in the lab, the researchers have successfully piloted Plant-e using a rooftop garden on at Wageningen University. As well as providing the urban area with a garden to grow food, the 15m2 plant bed was also able to power a smartphone.
Watch the following video for a more in-depth explanation of the process:
While the technique has currently only been trialled in urban settings and yields a small amount of electricity per m2, the Plant-e team envisage multiple connected energy farms on city rooftops to help power buildings, and eventually creating an super-large network of ricefields and wetlands around the world. It’s also working on improving the yield of electricity from each plant patch. Although the technique may not be feasible for some time, could plants be able to power our future?