Environmental pollution and related problems are becoming a growing concern all over the globe. The fossil fuels used to power most vehicles and generate most energy are responsible for a significant percentage of these problems. Globally, scientists are looking for innovative ways to address them. One area of particular concern is in the generation of electricity, since an efficient alternative to the fossil fuel that currently creates electrical power would have a huge impact on our planet. The technology company Plant-E is exploring the possibility of harnessing the power of plant life to generate electricity.
Fossil fuel is primarily generated from coal and petroleum. The process of locating, processing and delivering these fuels causes catastrophic pollution. It creates greenhouse gasses which then create holes in the ozone layer, leading to continuing environmental damage. This is the primary reason that scientists have been searching for an alternative; Plant-E’s work is one very exciting possibility.
Walking across a carpet in socks on a dry winter’s day and touching another object will create an electric spark. Electricity is essentially power generated from an atom. Inside an atom are electrons which escape if something opens a pathway for their release. After walking on a carpet, the electrons are released from the point of contact and react with the electrons of the object being touched. Everything that is made of atoms contains electrons and this includes plants.
Plants not only contain the potential to create electricity, they also contain soluble chemicals that act as a great conductor of electricity. Plants can potentially be harnessed to provide a steady stream of electricity in an environmentally friendly way. They also have the added benefit of being able to absorb the harmful carbon greenhouse gasses which pollute the air and harm the ozone layer.
Using plants to generate electricity might have sounded like science fiction to the average person a few decades ago, but the concept is actually not new. Scientists have been seeking new ways to harness the power of the plant for years. Due to the versatility of plant life around the globe, the possibilities for using it to generate energy are almost unlimited.
Countless schoolchildren have learned how a simple potato can be used to generate electricity. The juices in a potato contain chemicals that cause a reaction with copper and zinc electrodes, producing about 1.2 volts of electricity. The potato acts in much the same way as a battery. If you were to use several potatoes, you could actually generate enough power to light a diode bulb. This might not be a practical means of large-scale energy generation, but it does illustrate the potential for creating electricity from plants in principle.
Plants can be grown to create another product which generates electricity – alcohol. Grapes, barley, rye and several other grains can be used in the creation of alcoholic products, which can then be used to generate electricity. This happens by creating an alcohol-based fuel to power a generator. An alcohol-powered generator stores its energy in a large battery which releases its power through positive and negative electrode connectors and fiberglass conduit.
The ability to harness plant life to create electricity is a proven fact. The possibilities if this technology is developed to the point that it is efficient and cost-effective are truly staggering; by utilizing natural and renewable resources for energy creation, pollution and greenhouse gas levels could be lowered significantly.
Innovative companies like Plant-E are at the forefront of the effort to make this technology widely useable. Developed at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, Plant-E relies on a green electricity roof which uses plants as a battery to generate and store energy. This technology does not harm the plant or its environment. Plant-E recently received €250,000 to do further research.
This planet is on a perilous course due to the overuse of wasteful and dirty sources of energy. Organizations with vision and creativity are realizing the potential of plants in generating this energy. Plant-E is one such organization; only time will show whether their research can be widely implemented.