Electricity doesn’t grow on trees—but it can, perhaps, be generated with their help. A new energy recovery system harnesses electrons from the microorganisms imparted into soil by growing plants, producing enough electricity to power a lamp.

The technology, developed by researchers at the Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC), uses a metallic grid to capture electrons given off by s0-called geobacters—microorganisms released by plants during their growth that gives off electrons. Over the course of a day, that grid feeds a battery and, in the case of this lamp set-up, can put away enough electricity to power a bright LED for around two hours.

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The team has been testing the lamps in the community of Nuevo Saposa in Peru, which has incredibly limited to access to electricity. Typically, locals use a kerosene lamp for light, but the fuel’s expensive and the fumes unpleasant.

A solar panel would likely be a cheaper and better established solution to the problem, but that’s not really the point. This is a proof-of-concept, and it’s easy enough to image how the technology could be scaled up. If a single plant can produce two hours of light for child to do their homework, what could a community’s trees provide?

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[UTEC via Engadget]