Cyborg Plants Could Be a Viable Source of Energy

A team of Swedish scientists successfully installed functioning electronic circuits in living roses. This groundbreaking experiment suggests that bionic plants could be used to generate electricity in the future.

Author Terri Kafyeke, 11.26.15

A team of Swedish scientists successfully installed functioning electronic circuits in living roses. This groundbreaking experiment suggests that bionic plants could be used to generate electricity in the future.

We all depend on plants for the oxygen that we breathe. A recent study indicates that they could possibly provide us with another essential staple: electricity. A team of researchers from the Laboratory of Organic Electronics at Linköping University successfully created electronic plants; that is, living plants with integrated circuitry. According to their study, which was just published in the journal Science Advances, Dr. Magnus Berggren and his colleagues formed analogue and digital circuits in the flowers.

The team worked with garden roses (Rosa floribunda) and utilised the plant’s natural vascular system to install the electronic components. Xylem is a tissue that transports water and minerals from the roots to the rest of the plant. The engineers dipped the stems of cut roses into a solution containing PEDOT-S (an electronically conducting polymer), causing the xylem to absorb the solution. The flowers were left in the solution for one to two days. The polymer dried in the xylem, forming a solid, conductive wire that ran through the stem. Similarly, the researchers created sponge-like 2D circuits in rose leaves by submerging them in a solution containing a mix of PEDOT (another polymer) and nanocellulose.   

The successful creation of bionic plants opens up a new world of possible experiments, including plant growth regulation and perhaps even energy harvesting. According to Dr. Berggren:

“Now we can really start talking about ‘power plants’ – we can place sensors in plants and use the energy formed in the chlorophyll, produce green antennas or produce new materials. Everything occurs naturally, and we use the plants’ own very advanced, unique systems.”

If electric circuitry can be installed in living plants, they could potentially function as fuel cells by converting the chemical energy produced during photosynthesis into electricity. This electricity could then be used to charge a smartphone or power a lamp. Naturally, further research is required before we can start using our house plants as charging stations for our gadgets.

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