Dutch company generates electricity from living plants

Dutch company Plant-e generates electricity from living plants

Generating clean and affordable electricity from thin air seems too good to be true but a Dutch company might have finally arrived at the closest possible definition of sustainable “green” energy.

Netherlands-based Plant-e is an emerging player in clean and sustainable energy technology. Founded in 2009 as a spin-off from a research department at Wageningen University, the company aims to develop and implement a breakthrough, patented technology that involves using living plants to generate electricity.

Generating electricity from living plants

The concept is simple. According to founders David Strik and Marjolein Helder, they initially looked for ways to utilise lost energy. Their inquiry led them to focus their attention on plants—especially photosynthesis.

Like any other living organisms, plants use energy to fuel their day-to-day biological activities. Photosynthesis is a process used by most plants and other organisms to convert light energy to chemical energy before storing it in bonds of sugar.

Plants, however, produce more sugars than they need as they grow and they excrete the excess through their roots. Spare sugars end up in the surrounding soil and occurring microorganisms use them to gain energy.

As microorganisms break down the excess sugars, they release electrons as waste product. This is where Plant-e technology enters the picture.

By placing an electrode in the soil, released electrons are able to flow, thus making them available for harvest as electricity. This approach is built on the same principle of running a clock or powering a small light bulb using potatoes.

Series of tests conducted by the company revealed plant growth is not affected in the entire process. This means that as plants continue its natural biological processes, electricity generation becomes almost incessant.

Dutch company Plant-e generates electricity from living plants 2

The process is simple: (1) Plants convert light energy into chemical energy and store them as sugars through photosynthesis; (2) Occurring microorganisms in the soil break down excess sugars expelled via roots to use them as energy; (3) The process of breaking down sugars produce electrons as byproducts; and (4) An electrode placed in the soil allows electrons to flow and become available for harvest as electricity. Photo credit: Plant-e

Applications and future implications

Plant-e has already applied their technology in numerous test centres. The rooftop of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology building at Wageningen University is the first pilot testing center that includes a modular system of 15 sq. mi. Accordingly, the first “green electricity roof” has the capacity to generate enough power to charge a mobile phone.

The company is planning to expand the generating capacity of its green electricity roof. As mentioned, a full-blown modular system should be enough to power half of the electricity requirement of a standard household.

Soon, the company envisions installing its technology in rice fields and even wetlands or polluted water bodies to create communities that will have the capacity of generating their own clean and sustainable electricity. The vision offers favorable prospects in poor areas of the world.