Conservationists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) are attempting to harness plant energy to oversee remote ecosystems. They are working on a project that could enable a plant “to take a selfie.”
A maidenhair fern is hooked up to produce the energy to snap its own selfie photograph—all in the name of science.
ZSL conservation technologist Alasdair Davies talked about the experiment and explained how they are generating power from living plants. “It’s a really exciting experiment here at ZSL London Zoo and what we’re trying to do is take a selfie,” said Davies.
Davies stated that the plant itself will store the power and will use that power to take a photo. “We think it’s the first time it’s ever been done, we’re really excited to put it on display and show the public what we’re up to here,” said Davies.
The conservation technologist explained in detail the energy production process. “We’ve got Pete, our maidenhair fern, installed in a microbial fuel cell. We have four of these fuel cells here,” said Davies.
He continued, “When Pete photosynthesizes, he generates sugars, the sugars go into the soil, and bacteria in the soil break these down and that’s how we generate the power.”
Unlike solar power, the power generated from living plants can be used under dense forest canopies to record a variety of data—from plant growth to temperature and humidity.
Davies explained how “this whole process here installs power into a super capacitor, we discharge that and that powers the camera.”
Green energy specialists Plant E in the Netherlands designed the microbial technology, using a fuel cell that could be powered by plants.
Conservationists are hoping that the plant-powered technology could be used to prevent declining biodiversity.
The new technology will help scientists to gauge the speed of plant growth, to monitor fragile ecosystems and rare plants in remote rainforests, and even wild animals.
“We hope to embed quite a few sensors in the canopy to detect things, such as UV levels, which is important to see how amphibians are surviving in rainforests today, or take photographs, so we can watch rainforests regenerate, we can watch plants change over time,” stated Davies.
He spoke about the potential of plant power over conventional or solar power. “Imagine we can power our computers and our electronics in rainforests using plants,” said Davies.
Davies spoke in further detail on the merits of using plant-powered energy. “Plants work very well in rainforests; they operate 24 hours a day, in the dark and up in the canopy too.”
The concept is to “hook into that power source” generated from plants. “We can actually charge and power our electronics in the field,” enthused Davies, adding, “Now, that’s why it’s exciting to me to use plant power instead of traditional solar.”