Dutch scientists have developed a revolutionary system that could one day help isolated villages around the world steadily generate electricity from mundane water-logged plants such as rice growing in paddy fields.
Plant-e, a company based out of the Netherlands, has found the way to create electricity from living plants and use them to power streetlights, wifi hotspots and cellphones chargers. The “Starry Sky” project started in November 2014 near Amsterdam, with more than 300 LED streetlights and they now power also their headquarters in Wageningen.
Plant-e technology is based on photosynthesis
“It’s based on the principle that plants produce more energy than they need,” said Marjolein Helder, co-founder of Plant-e, which makes products that harvest energy from living plants.
All that the system requires to produce electricity is a plant growing in water, be it mangrove swamps, rice paddies, bogs or simply in a pot or your garden.
“Part of this organic matter is used for plant-growth, but a large part can’t be used by the plant and is excreted into the soil via the roots. Around the roots naturally occuring micro-organisms break down the organic compound to gain energy from. In this process, electrons are released as a waste product. By providing an electrode for the micro-organisms to donate their electrons to, the electrons can be harvested as electricity. Research has shown that plant-growth isn’t compromised by harvesting electricity, so plants keep on growing while electricity is concurrently produced.” (source)
A promising technology
However, at the moment, there is still an issue about the quantity of energy produced. Currently, a 100-square metre system provides enough electricity to charge a mobile phone, power some LED lights or a wireless Internet access point.
But in “a few years”, Plant-e hopes that a similar-sized system will provide 2 800 kilowatt-hours, or around 80 percent of the electricity needs of an average Dutch family of 2.2 people.
Two large-scale systems have been installed in the Netherlands on a road bridge and a hi-tech startup campus at a total cost of 120,000 euros, with the support of municipal authorities. “We wanted to help develop this technique which has enormous potential,” said Bas Boeker, who manages state-owned properties including the startup campus.
Initial results are encouraging, say the developers, and the problems are not necessarily those you would expect: the LED lamps on the road bridge project have already been destroyed by vandals.