This Company Is Building Tech That's Turning Plants Into Batteries

Plant-e has figured out how to use a plant's natural photosynthesis process into a light in the dark.


May 18 2019, Updated 2:48 p.m. ET

When you hear about technology that derives energy from plants, you likely imagine some sort of fuel produced via the destruction of those plants. That would have been true until recently, when a company called Plant-e introduced the first successful clean energy project that doesn't damage the living material that produces the power, according to Healthy Planet 365.

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Though people have known for a long time that photosynthesis can produce usable energy, there hasn't been a way to create enough of it to power much more than a potato clock. Plant-e has made something called a “sediment microbial fuel cell," that allows photosynthesized sugars from plants to connect to power sources.

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The carbon conductor is buried in the soil of the plant, where bacteria is breaking down excess sugar produced by the plant's photosynthesis process. Electrons created by the breakdown of those sugars then flow into the conductor, which are then extracted and harvested for power.

The main difficultly with this power source is scale. There are many places where such a model could be successful, because there is considerable plant life. But for a house in the U.S., which uses considerably more power than most places in the world, you'd need about 4,000 square feet of yard space for your Plant-e installation. 

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In the Netherlands, where the Plant-e company is based, the average household needs considerably less. But there is a difficulty in cold climates, where the ground freezes. That halts the plant's life cycle and the power it produces.

But the founders are hoping that use of the technology will bring power to regions that have little to know access—but plenty of plants. 

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