Green plants generate electricity – 150 volts per leaf

Did you know that green plants can generate electricity? A single leaf can generate over 150 volts. A team of researchers in Italy say that a ‘hybrid’ tree can act as an innovative ‘green’ electric generator. The hybrid tree is made of artificial and natural leaves.

Researchers from the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) wrote about their work in the journal Advanced Functional Materials (citation below).

Scientists across the world are trying to develop sustainable energy sources. Specifically, renewable energy that is environmentally friendly and pollution free.

Renewable energy is energy that originates from a source that is everlasting. At least, everlasting on a human timescale. Wind energy, for example, which captures energy from the wind and converts it into electricity, is renewable. We can never use up all the wind so that there is none left. Solar energy and biomass energy are also renewable sources of energy.



Green plants can help with electricity

At ITT, an interdisciplinary team of biologists and roboticists found that living plants can help with electricity. Fabian Meder, Barbara Mazzolai and colleagues discovered that green plants are literally a ‘green’ source of electrical power.

Dr. Meder is a Post-Doc Researcher who specializes in Bioinspired Robotics. Dr. Mazzolai is the Director of the Center for Micro-BioRobotics at ITT. She also specializes in Bioinspired Soft Robotics.

Green plants could become one of our future electricity generators that integrates perfectly with natural environments. Green plants are also a source of power that is accessible globally.

Green Plants Produce Electricity
When the wind blows into this hybrid plant and the leaves move, it generates electricity. (Image: adapted from eurekalert.org)

Leaves of green plants generate electricity

A single leaf, the researchers discovered, can generate over 150 volts. That is enough to power 100 LED light bulbs simultaneously.

The scientists also showed that a ‘hybrid’ tree could act as an innovative ‘green’ electrical generator, converting the energy in the wind into electricity. The hybrid tree is made of artificial and natural leaves.

When mechanical forces hit certain leaf structures, they convert them into electrical energy.¬†Green plant leaves’ composition allows them to do this naturally.



Through contact electrification, a leaf can accumulate electrical charges on its surface. Its tissues act like cables that transport the generated electricity to other parts of the plant. If you then stick a ‘plug’ into the plant stem, you can harvest the electricity that the plant has generated.

Green plants and wind energy

The researchers modified a Nerium oleander tree with artificial leaves. Those leaves touched the tree’s natural leaves.

When the wind blew into the plant, the leaves moved, and the ‘hybrid tree’ subsequently generated electricity.



The more the leaves moved and touched each other the more electricity they produced.

If we could apply this technology to a whole forest, we could generate a huge amount of electricity.

Citation

Energy Conversion at the Cuticle of Living Plants,” Barbara Mazzolai, Fabian Meder, Pasqualantonio Pingue, Indrek Must, Ali Sadeghi, Alessio Mondini, Virgilio Mattoli, Carlo Filippeschi, and Lucia Beccai. Advanced Functional Materials. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/adfm.201806689.