Plant-e: heats, shoots and leaves — electricity from living plants

July 17, 2018


— the story —

Plants could soon provide our electricity. In a small way they already are doing that in research labs and greenhouses at project Plant-e — a university and commercially sponsored research group at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

The Plant Microbial Fuel Cell from Plant-e can generate electricity from the natural interaction between plant roots and soil bacteria. It works by taking advantage of the up to 70 percent of organic material produced by a plant’s photo-synthesis process that cannot be used by the plant — and is excreted through the roots.

As natural occurring bacteria around the roots break down this organic residue, electrons are released as a waste product. By placing an electrode close to the bacteria to absorb these electrons, the research team — led by Marjolein Helder PhD — is able to generate electricity.

Helder said: “Solar panels are making more energy per square meter — but we expect to reduce the costs of our system technology in the future. And our system can be used for a variety of applications.”

Plant Microbial Fuel Cells can be used on many scales. An experimental 15 square meter model can produce enough energy to power a computer notebook. Plant-e is working on a system for large scale electricity production in existing green areas like wetlands and rice paddy fields.

Helder said: “Our technology is making electricity — but also could be used as roof insulation or as a water collector. On a bigger scale it’s possible to produce rice and electricity at the same time, and in that way combine food and energy production.”

A first prototype of a green electricity roof has been installed on one building at Wageningen University and researchers are keeping a close eye on what is growing there. The first field pilots will be started in 2014. The technology was patented in 2007.

After 5 years of lab research: Plant-e is now taking the first steps toward commercializing the technology. In the future, bio-electricity from plants could produce as much as 3.2 watts per square meter of plant growth.

w. descriptions from: EuroNews


on the web | essentials

Plant-e | main
Plant-e | brochure
Plant-e | YouTube channel


video | Plant-e
electricity from plants


watch | videos from Plant-e

Plant-e | video: animation
Plant-e | video: the power of plants
Plant-e | video: the next step in development


on the web | research

Wageningen Univ. | main
Wageningen Univ. | research institutes: plant research
Wageningen Univ. | research institutes: centre for development innovation
Wageningen Univ. | story: Dutch Innovation Award for Plant-e