A young product designer, Ermi van Oers, created a lamp that harnesses a living plant’s energy to generate electricity: The Living Light. Her dream is to scale the technology to power entire smart cities, and has already tested it on city parks. Guess what? It works.
Two Dutch startups brought the project to life: Nova Innova—van Oers design company—and Plant-e—a high-tech company that patented Plant Microbial Fuel Cell Energy (P-MFC). Together they are showing the world how to use the first truly carbon negative energy source: plant power.
“The potential is huge, street lights could be connected to trees. Forests could become power plants. Rice fields in Indonesia could produce food and electricity for the local population.”—Ermi van Oers
How does P-MFC work? Simply put, its microbial energy: microbes in the soil convert the chemical energy a plant naturally produces (due to photosynthesis) into electricity.
*During photosynthesis a plant produces organic material for its own growth, not all energy is used, some is lost via the roots to the soil. In the soil bacteria then break down the organic material. During the degradation process electrons are released as a waste-product. electrons = electricity.
“It’s based on the principle that plants produce more energy than they need” —Marjolein Helder, co-founder of Plant-e
- Under the influence of sunlight, plants make organic material (sugars) and oxygen from water and CO. This is called photosynthesis.
- This organic material is transported throughout the plant.
- Part of this organic material is not used by the plant and secreted by the roots.
- Bacteria that naturally surround the roots break down this organic material, releasing electrons and protons.
- The electrons are collected in the anode (the minus pole) of our plant battery.
- The electrons flow through the wire and can be used as electricity. A smart chip enables us to increase the voltage and, for example, to keep lights on!
- To make electrons flow, you also need a plus pole, the cathode. There they come in contact with oxygen from the air and protons from step 4 and react to water
microbial energy tech in practice:
LIVING LIGHT – LAMP
- the light is turned on when we touch the plant: thanks to a sensor.
- is now delivering the first batch of 50 Living Light series to eager customers.
- The light is completely self-sufficient and off-grid. It uses three LED lights with a bamboo holder.
- The first home biotech design: no cables, no batteries: just mother nature.
- the whole product is made by local craftsmanship in Holland: hand-blown glass and 3D printing are used.
- Delivered with the Living Light comes a pre-selected plants: Spathiphyllum and the Chamaedorea Elegans
- The amount of energy produced depends on the wellbeing of the plant and environmental circumstances. The amount of light depends on the periods of rest between the activation of the light.
LIVING LIGHT – PARK
- Rotterdam is the first city worldwide to realize a park with interactive lighting powered by plants: ‘Het Park van Morgen’.
- A 35-meter path will lead you through the electricity-producing plants that respond toward your presence.
- Plant-e is currently testing how to harness energy from rice-paddies to power remote villages in Indonesia.