Friday, July 10, 2020

Plant- Microbial fuel cell: Generating electricity from green, living plants

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Marshland near Blythburgh. View over the tidal River Blyth  | Source:  Eileen Henderson via Wikimedia

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.

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October 18, 2020 6:46 PM

Bhagat Singh: The Man, The Life, And The Beliefs

Bhagat Singh is one of the ‘big names’ immortalised in the history of India’s freedom struggle and eternally cherished even after almost ninety years of his martyrdom. What makes him stand out is his popularity among the masses being almost on par with the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, despite his beliefs and actions being diametrically opposite to theirs.

Of the freedom fighters who remain mainstream in today’s India— a crowd predominantly made up of politicians with center or right of centre leanings, Bhagat Singh occupies a relatively lonely spot as a young, staunchly left-wing revolutionary who outrightly rejected Gandhi’s philosophy, and preferred direct action over politics.

Newspaper headline after Central Legislative Assembly non-lethal bombing

Bhagat Singh is most commonly and widely remembered in association with an incident where he, along with his friend and comrade B.K. Dutt dropped non-lethal smoke bombs into the Central Legislative Assembly from its balcony in 1929. They also scattered leaflets by the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), which he was a major part of and was aided by in orchestrating the bombings. He is said to have been inspired by French anarchist Auguste Vaillant, who had bombed the Chamber of Deputies in Paris in 1893.

The bombing gathered widespread negative reaction due to the use of violence, especially from those who supported the Gandhian method. While Bhagat Singh and the HSRA wanted to protest exploitative legislatures such as the Public Safety Act and the Trades Disputes Bill, it is also widely accepted that they additionally intended to use the drama and public attention of the ensuing trial to garner attention to socialist and communist causes. Bhagat Singh and Dutt did not escape under the cover of panic and smoke despite the former carrying a pistol, and waited for the police to find and arrest them. During the trial Bhagat Singh frequently chanted a variety of slogans, such as ‘Inquilab Zindabad,’ which is even today often raised in protests across India.  

March 25th Newspaper carrying the news about execution of Bhagat Singh | Source: Tribune India

However, this was not the trial that ended in Bhagat Singh receiving his execution sentence. Before the Assembly bombings, Bhagat Singh had been involved in the shooting of police officer John Saunders, in connection to the death of freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai. At that time he and his associates had escaped, but after Bhagat Singh was awarded a life sentence for the Assembly bombing, a series of investigations led to his rearrest as part of the Saunders murder case. It was this trial— generally regarded as unjust— that led to his much protested execution sentence.

Bhagat Singh was hanged to death on the eve of March 23rd, 1931 and he was just twenty-three years old.

Despite the criticism he received for his actions, his execution sentence was widely opposed and many attempts were made to challenge it. In fact, his execution came on the eve of the Congress party’s annual convention, as protests against it worsened. He was memorialised nationwide as a martyr, and is often addressed with the honorific Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh.

Apart from being a socialist, Bhagat Singh was attracted to communist and anarchist causes as well. In ‘To Young Political Workers,’ his last testament before his death, he called for a “socialist order” and a reconstruction of society on a “new, i.e, Marxist basis.” He considered the government “a weapon in the hand of the ruling class”, which is reflected in his belief that Gandhian philosophy only meant the “replacement of one set of exploiters for another.” Additionally, he wrote a series of articles on anarchism, wanting to fight against mainstream miscontrusions of the word and explain his interest in anarchist ideology.

Bipin Chandra, who wrote the introduction to Why I am an Atheist by Bhagat Singh | Source: Wikimedia

While writing the introduction to Bhagat Singh’s remarkable essay Why I am an Atheist in 1979, Late Bipan Chandra described the Marxist leaning of Bhagat Singh and his associates in the following way;

Bhagat Singh was not only one of India’s greatest freedom fighters and revolutionary socialists, but also one of its early Marxist thinkers and ideologues. Unfortunately, this last aspect is relatively unknown with the result that all sorts of reactionaries, obscurantists and communalists have been wrongly and dishonestly trying to utilise for their own politics and ideologies the name and fame of Bhagat Singh and his comrades such as Chandra Shekhar Azad.”

Bhagat Singh is often admired and celebrated for his dedication to the cause of liberation. However his socialist, communist and anarchist beliefs were suppressed by the successive governments in Independent India. This in a way is the suppression of a revolutionary who has the potential to inspire, unite and motivate the growing population of a spectrum of activists all over India, in direct response to the fast-spreading divisiveness and intolerance in the country, often patronised by the groups and organizations professing the right-wing fascist ideology.

Bhagat Singh’s dreams of a new social order live on, not just in his writings, but also reflected in the hearts of every activist, protester, and dissenting citizen. The fight for freedom, revolution, Inquilab, may have changed in meaning, but it is far from over.

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