Plant-e, a spin off from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, develops products in which living plants generate electricity. These products are based on technology that was developed at Wageningen University, which was patented in 2007 and the patens are now held by Plant-e. The technology enables the production of electricity from living plants at practically every site where plants can grow. The technology is based on natural processes and doesn't harm the plant or its environment.
Via photosynthesis a plant produces organic matter. 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 compounds to gain energy . 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.
The electricity that is generated via the Plant-e technology is low-voltage direct current which can directly be applied to charge batteries, cell-phones and laptops and power LED-lights. This new fuel cell currently generates power at a rate of 0.4 Watt per square metre of plant growth and the researchers think this could go as high as 3.2 Watt per square metre of plant growth.
The technology has already worked on a small experimental scale and many applications for the technology can be thought of. The plant-microbial fuel cells can be used on various scales such as flat roofs or in remote areas.
The first Plant-e products are to be expected in 2013.
Top image: University of Victoria