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.
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?