Did You See This?

Power Plant

An ingenious method can produce electricity from plants in the ground.

Researchers at Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología, or UTEC, in Perù have figured out a new way to draw electricity from plants, which they have delightfully dubbed “plant lamps.”

As the video above shows, UTEC has a way of coming up with innovative methods for improving the lives of people in poorly served or ravaged areas. A while back, it found a way of growing plants on platforms using clean moisture pulled from the air in a region whose groundwater—and ground—has been ruined by pollution.

In the rainforest villages of Nuevo Saposoa and Pucallpa in Perù, there’s an existing electrical grid, but since a flood last March damaged its cables, it hasn’t been working. Forty-two percent of the communities in the rainforest don’t have even that much. Sundown means lights out, a real problem for families with small children—and for students who need to study—unless they resort to unhealthy and dangerous kerosene lamps.

UTEC came up with an exciting idea that takes advantage of two things they have lots of in the rainforest: plants and dirt. During oxidation, nutrients in plants encounter microorganisms called “geobacters” in the dirt, and that process releases electrons that electrodes in the dirt can capture. A grid of these electrodes can transfer the electrons into a standard battery.

So as of now, 10 houses in Nuevo Saposoa have received a wooden box with an electrode grid in a drawer from UTEC and its partner FCB Mayo. On top of the box is a single plant and a large rectangular LED lamp powered by the battery. Very, very slick—and hopefully a solution for many more locals in the future.

Update, Nov. 19, 2015: This post has been updated to include UTEC’s partnership with FCB Mayo on the “plant lamps” project.