As a new resident of Southern California, I find that there are so many plants, it’s somewhat overwhelming attempting to absorb and learn regional plant palettes. There are regionally native drought tolerant plants, as well as drought adaptive plants from similar Mediterranean regions, such as Australia and South Africa. And then, of course, there are plants as human and animal food sources, plants as important pollinators, plants with beneficial pharmaceutical properties, and plants that filter sediment and pollution. And what about plants as a source of clean, renewable energy?
Yup, I just indoctrinated a bunch of people into the plant geek club.
It turns out there is active research focused on generating electricity from plants’ energy production processes of photosynthesis and decomposition. This energy generation can be attained without damaging plants, burning them, or creating more pollution. While the technology is relatively new and the amount of energy being captured isn’t large, it is measurable, portable, adaptable, and low cost – perfect for remote areas.
Based in the Netherlands, Plant-e is pioneering technology to harvest the electrons released as a by-product of the bacterial decomposition process that naturally occurs around plant roots in response to organic matter; excess organic matter is released as a by-product of plant’s energy production photosynthesis system. By placing inert electrodes around plant root-systems, Plant-e has been able to collect electrons and convert them into electricity, all while allowing the plant to actively grow.
The process requires hundreds of plants with electrodes grouped into modular systems to generate sufficient electricity to power outdoor lights, charge an iPhone, or connect to WiFi, but the company is actively developing technology for large scale applications. As biological decomposition processes are more prominent in wet, anaerobic conditions, extensive systems of horizontal tubular systems located just below the surface in plant root zones are envisioned in ecological wet areas like deltas, mangrove forests, rice paddies, and wetlands. Researchers hope that with the ability to increase the scale of technology, both the level of energy supplied and the cost of the technology will go down.
This all very exciting news for this self-professed plant geek. It’s a good thing I’m a landscape architect – I get paid to think about, plan, and design with plants as part of outdoor spaces, alongside follow news about the future of plants improving our lives in ways we never once imagined.