How plants can generate energy

 By Agata Boxe

For years scientists have been searching for new green, sustainable energy sources. Now recent research has pointed to one such source that is green in the most literal sense: plants…

It turns out that just one leaf can generate enough energy to power 100 LED light bulbs. The study authors also constructed a hybrid plant made of natural and artificial leaves that converts wind into electricity.
This green miracle is possible thanks to the energy-generating powers wielded by some leaf structures. When mechanical force is applied to the surface of a leaf, its composition allows it to transform the force into electricity in a process called contact electrification. The electricity subsequently permeates the leaf to reach the inner plant tissue, which in turn acts as an electric cable of sorts and sends the electricity to other parts of the plant. The energy that is generated through the process can be harvested and used in electronic devices. The researchers found that, when touched, a single leaf can generate more than 150 volts of electricity — an amount that could power a total of 100 LED light bulbs.

Schematic illustration of the ion-transfer mechanism of contact electrification (Capulli, Wikimedia)

The wind rises

In their study, the researchers applied this startling phenomenon to converting wind into electricity. The scientists embedded artificial leaf-like structures into a flower pot housing a small tree-like plant so that the structures touched the plant’s natural leaves. Once wind blew toward the plant and touched the leaves, the plant turned into an electricity-producing machine.
“Our analysis on the energy generation by single leaves and whole plants clearly indicates the potential for using entire plants as ‘living triboelectric energy harvesters,” the researchers wrote in their study.
The scientists say that the energy-generating mechanism could be expanded to the surface of an entire large tree or perhaps even a forest.
The findings were described in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

READ MORE: Energy leaves for a cleaner future by Amanda Saint

about the author
Agata Boxe