Putting lazy plants to work: Generating electricity from plant waste

By James Plafke on January 31, 2013 at 3:02 pm

If you think plants have the easy life, lazing about the ground all day doing nothing, you’ll be pleased to know that a team of scientists have figured out a way to finally make plants useful, claiming that they can generate electricity from plant roots. Also, you should probably do a bit of research into the uses and functions of plants.

Plants, much like we humans, generate waste. However, unlike we humans (hopefully), plants deposit it into the soil and surrounding water in which their roots reside. Bacteria feed on that waste, and leave behind spare electrons, hydrogen ions, and carbon dioxide after the act. A team led by Bert Hamelers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands was attempting to use microbial fuel cells to treat wastewater, when they discovered that the cells could send the ions to a cathode, but could not pass the electrons, leaving them behind. This created an electric potential difference, also known as voltage. From this, another Wageningen team, led by Marjolein Helder, constructed a pilot plant — essentially a test system — that was able to generate 0.44W per square meter that was fitted with the plant-based fuel cells. For comparison, a wood-burning system is estimated to generate about 0.7W per square meter. While neither number is a significant amount of power, the plant-derived energy at least doesn’t require gathering and shipping wood.

Read more: Putting lazy plants to work: Generating electricity from plant waste | ExtremeTech.

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