Humans are capable of discovering and creating great things with the help of science and one such impressive discovery is that green, living plants can generate electricity. It may seem unbelievable, but not impossible.
One must be wondering how this technology works. Well, the answer is quite simple; photosynthesis. Plants excrete organic matter into the soil as a result of photosynthesis. Only some of the organic matter is used by plants and the rest is released in the soil. This released organic matter is broken down by bacteria. In the breakdown process, electrons are released as a waste product. Since the movement of electrons produces electricity, these electrons, which are of no use to the plant, can be harvested. The best part about this innovation is that the plants from which energy is being generated are not affected in any way.
This idea was first put into use by a Dutch start-up called Plant-e. This company was launched in September 2009 and is successful in launching and selling many environment- friendly products like DIY kits to the public for experimentation purposes and modular systems which could be easily installed on green roofs for abundant electricity production. Plant-e is involved in various projects, within The Netherlands, like automatic lighting systems in gardens and many more.
This technology works with the plants which thrive in moist soils and where the water is present in abundance. Therefore marshlands, paddy fields and deltas are some of the most suitable places for setting up plant batteries as a huge amount of water is present in those areas. Hence, the use of this technology is limited to certain geographic areas containing moist soils and cannot be used in arid regions. It may, however, promote the growth of more trees and plants which will gradually reverse the malicious effects of global warming.
Another obstacle in widespread adoption of this technology in today’s time is the high cost of installation of the system. The initial adopters of this technology are those who are attracted by the efficiency and eco-friendly nature of the plant batteries and willing to pay a premium for it.
The concept of plant batteries can be further taken into rural areas where most of the population still does not have access to adequate electricity. It is estimated that plant-MFC technology can cover upto 20% of European Union’s primary future electricity needs. Also, plants are almost 100% efficient at converting photons from sunlight into electrons which indicates a bright future for this technology. However, more research needs to be done in this field.
Another innovation in the field of green electricity is using algae , which often grows in ponds and rivers, for generating electricity. The basic concept which explains the working is similar to the way plants are able to produce electricity; photosynthesis.
Various other ventures in the field of renewable energy also include vegetable batteries, meaning, electric power generated from fruits and vegetables like lemons, tomatoes and potatoes, have been investigated. According to experiments, at least 3 to 4 vegetables are required just to light a small LED bulb. Moreover, it leads to poisoning of the vegetables and those food products need to be thrown away, without being useful for consumption purposes. It is therefore not a viable option for energy production.
Plant based electricity generation is still an evolving technology which has immense potential for producing energy in an environmentally sustainable way. It will realise full potential when the installation cost is attractive enough for the farmers to prefer it over the electricity grids or fossil fuel based personal electricity generator sets.