Plants Generate Green Electricity to Power LED Bulbs

Sustainable and renewable energy sources are of increasing significance today. Scientists are constantly on a quest for sources that can make the world more environmentally friendly. Groundbreaking research, in this context, shows that plants can generate electricity in their leaves to power 100 LED light bulbs simultaneously. A team of researchers in Italy state that a “hybrid tree” can act as an innovative “green” electric generator.

An interdisciplinary team of roboticists and biologists at IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia in Pontedera in Pisa, Italy, have reportedly discovered and demonstrated that plants are a green energy source. The lead researchers Fabian Meder and Barbara Mazzolai and their co-workers at IIT discovered that the living plants have the capacity to generate —by a single leaf—over 150 volts. The energy is reportedly adequate to power 100 LED light bulbs simultaneously. This discovery may become one of the future’s electricity supplies that integrates with natural environments.

The research team based at the Center for Micro-Bio Robotics (CMBR) of IIT in Pontedera, Italy, now aims to develop innovative methodologies, robotic technologies, and new materials with the natural world’s inspiration. The research team— in the last study— reportedly studied plants and demonstrated that leaves could create electricity when they are touched by a distinct material or by the wind.

Mazzolai, a long-time researcher, coordinated the EU funded project Plantoid, which resulted in the realization of the world’s first plant robot. In the latest study with Meder’s team, the researchers focused again on plants. They found that certain leaf structures can convert mechanical forces applied at the leaf surface into electrical energy. The electrical charges on the plants’ leaves surface are attributed to a process called contact electrification. It can transmit the charges into the inner plant tissues, which act as a “cable” and transport the generated electricity to other parts of the plant.

The researchers described how they could further use the effect to convert wind into electricity by plants. The team modified a Nerium oleander tree with artificial leaves that touched the natural N. oleander leaves. The hybrid tree could produce electricity when the wind blew into the plant and moved the leaves. The electricity generated could increase reportedly when more leaves are touched. This could be up-scaled by exploiting the whole surface of a tree’s foliage or even a forest.

The IIT research team published a paper on their work in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Advanced Functional Materials. Meanwhile, the team reiterated their plans to continue their research as the first step for an EU project in which Mazzolai plans to coordinate in 2019 called Growbot.

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