South Bay Energy: How Wetlands Could Become The Next Energy Source
Wetlands have often been underrated as potential sites for energy generation. They are not stable enough to support traditional power plants and are rarely used for solar and wind power. While there have been attempts to use methane generated by decaying biomatter as fuel, the results of such attempts have been mixed. However, scientists in the Netherlands might have discovered a way to tap wetlands as power sources.
“Plant-e”, a technology developed by researchers from Wagenigen University in the central Netherlands, allows users to produce electricity from plants. In the Netherlands, much of the land is covered by water for at least part of the year. Organic matter, a product of photosynthesis, is used by a plant to grow. But not all of it can be used by the plant – much of it goes into the soil or other substrates, such as water, where the plant grows. Excess organic matter is broken down by microorganisms in the soil or water, and this decomposition process releases electrons.
The research team at Wagenigen was able to harness these loose electrons using specialized fuel cells stuck into the soil. These fuel cells then generate a low-voltage direct current. In a recent TEDx talk, one of the scientists demonstrated how Plant-e electrodes allowed him to charge his smartphone. In its current form, Plant-e generates just 0.4 watts per square meter of plant growth; however, scientists believe that the power production could go up to 3.2 watts per square meter.
Plant-e’s proponents believe that their solution could provide a substantial part of their country’s enery needs. It also has low environmental impact as well – the electrodes will not interfere with plant growth and uses only organic matter that plants don’t require to grow or survive. While the technology is still in its infancy, it won’t be surprising to see people charging their phones beside potted plants in the near future.