BY: ALEX BROWN
The old potato-clock trick has more or less become a viable form of renewable energy. A company named Plant-e is heading the initiative, which introduces it as alternative to wind, hydro and solar power. But unlike the potato-clock method, which ends up poisoning the potato by introducing zinc and copper, Plant-e manages to extract energy from plants in a way that does not harm them.
The method is fairly straightforward: Photosynthesis absorbs light from the sun, which in conjunction with carbon dioxide and water produces sugar (plant food). However, nearly half of this sugar goes unused and is released back into the soil as waste. Bacteria in the soil, which produces electrons and protons, break down this sugar-waste. Plant-e uses a carbon conductor to capture these electrons and re-disperse them into a power harvester to be used as electricity.
Plant-e was founded on Sept 14. 2009 by Marjolein Helder and David Strik, emerging from the sub-department Environmental Technology of Wageningen University. Helder has taken on the responsibility of CEO, where Strik bridges the gap between the university’s contemporary research findings and the development of Plant-e. The company’s mission is simply to provide an alternative form of renewable energy. Especially considering that 1.4 billion people across the world don’t currently have access to electricity, according to Plant-e’s video.
However some, like Ramaraja Ramasamy, are skeptical. As he warns Yes Magazine, “If I come to you and say, ‘Do you want to power that 100-watt bulb?’ You probably need an acre of land and dirt to get the electricity from. Is that feasible? No.” However he does mention that the technology is still in its early stages, and though it may not be viable for mass-commercial use now, it soon could be. It also may be better suited for communities that are not accustomed to the gluttonous energy consumption of the U.S.
Alternatively, Americans could reduce energy consumption from the eye-popping yearly average of 10,932-kilowatt hours to fall within the capabilities of renewables like Plant-e’s. To put this into perspective, the UK weighs in at 4,600 kWh and China at 1,300 kWh, according to shrinkthatfootprint.com. However, the U.S. isn’t particularly known for its flexibility.
In the meantime, Plant-e continues to further the capabilities and reach of their technology. Last year, Plant-e lit up over 300 LED lights in Hembrug, Netherlands, as part of their “Starry Sky” project to draw awareness to the revolutionary method of plant-based renewable energy. The company asserts that rooftops of apartments and businesses are a perfect place to implement this technology. In their video, the company states that, “Equipped for these technology, these roofs always produce electricity—day or night, summer or winter.” Water-storage and insulation are additional benefits to the electricity generating green-roof. The first green electricity roof in the world has long been established in Wageningen, a municipality in the Netherlands, and hopefully the technology’s popularity will continue to rise in the coming years.