In the last decade of his life, Thomas Edison was heavily involved in biomass production, creating super-strains of common plants for the harvesting of rubber-like products, an alternative to expensive naturally grown rubber from the East Indies. Now, research out of Wageningen University in the Netherlands demonstrates that plant roots can generate electricity, day or night.
Scientists there believe about 2.5 acres of Reed grass could provide power for 24 households [about 14kW], without ever harvesting the Reed grasses. Still in its technological infancy, this technique is much more efficient that traditionally used biomass energy conversion where the actual biomass must be consumed, digested, or burned to harvest a one-time shot of stored energy. Simple plant sugars and organic acids produced by the plants get secreted through the roots, broken down by bacteria, and released electrons are then harvested as electricity. It is a microbiological fuel cell process at work.
In the future, horticultural crops might be doing double duty, making products for sale, and serving as a stationary power plant—-generating electricity to serve local loads or perhaps the facility housing the plants. What about “terratecture” applications where grass/plant roofs are used to generate electricity for the structure. Different plant species could be used…even rice. Marshlands could one day become clean generating stations, maybe even supplanting solar-electric systems. Listen to what is being said about this exciting technology….”It appears that this new renewable source is economically viable, will curb the pressure on the environment and is likely to be socially acceptable. It does not pollute the horizon (like wind turbines or ugly solar panels), does not interfere with nature (like dams) and the system does not compete with agricultural land in the debate on food and biofuels.”
The scientists who created this technology call it Plant-e; and have high hopes for it being used where many of the planet’s inhabitants do not now enjoy the benefits of electricity. With about 6% of the world’s surface being marshland, there seems to be plenty of places for application the world over. Just think of all the marshlands you know about near your home, or have seen while traveling or vacationing.
Edison would have loved this technology; with fuel cells being the technological cousin to the battery….batteries being Edison’s most ubiquitous and perhaps most profitable product. Hey….maybe your front lawn could be used to charge up your electric vehicle at night? You never know! You listening to this discussion Tom?
Editor’s Deep Dive
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