Plant lamps

One of the biggest limitations to the spread of digital technology in remote parts of the world is access to energy. A shortage of electric energy in isolated areas was a question tackled by a research group at the Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC) – made up of teachers and eight students. They found an innovative solution that could harness the energy produced by plants as they grow, creating a LED lamp powered by a houseplant. Their plant lamp holds the promise of being an alternative system of generating renewable energy for areas desperately needing power.

A single plant was able to produce enough electricity to power a LED lamp for 2 hours. The benefit of using LEDs for a project like this is their lower consumption of energy, whilst yielding a high level of illumination. The system they have developed operates on the energy stored in the soil which contains microorganisms released by plants as they grow. In essence, the UTEC research group was employing the free electrons from the microorganisms in order to ‘feed’ the lamp.

Professor of Energy and Power Engineering at UTEC and research leader, Elmer Ramirez, explains that the house plant is put together with a properly protected irrigation system. Within the soil is a metallic grid that captures electrons given off by the growing plant. This system is capable of converting the plant nutrients into electric energy. Over the course of a day the grid feeds a battery to be used by the LED lamp.

We use electrical energy on multiple levels of our society. Access to energy has an impact on the social and educational development of an area – as well as connecting person to person. The research carried out by UTEC included distributing prototypes across the remote community of Nuevo Saposa in Ucayali, Peru. Thus far, ten units of the plant lamp have been distributed to families in the area. Typically, residents will use kerosene lamps for light, which uses expensive fuel and emits fumes which can be unpleasant.

The team found the solution in nature. They tapped into an existing and abundant resource surrounding the village – vegetation. Although at this point the plant lamp is a proof of concept, the use of renewable solutions such as this helps us to move toward self-sustainable populations in the future. Furthermore, imagine the implication of such an application on a larger scale. This could give great incentive for creating greener cities and urban fabrics, with knock on benefits to our society and environment as a whole.

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