Streetlights powered by living plants

In Hembrug, Netherlands, a crowd stood in a park and looked up into the evening sky, waiting for lights to shine. This month more than 300 LED lights were illuminated by the Dutch company Plant-e in a new energy project called “Starry Sky.” Although the bulbs were ordinary, the electricity running through them derived from a new process that harnesses the power of living plants.

“Starry Sky” and a similar project an hour’s drive away, near Plant-e’s Wageningen headquarters, are the two first commercial installations of the company’s emerging technology. Both power lighting, but the company also sells Wi-Fi hot spots, mobile chargers, and rooftop electricity modules, all fueled by the byproducts of living plants.



Plant-e’s co-founder and CEO, Marjolein Helder, believes that this technology could be revolutionary. Using plants to generate electricity brings a new clean energy option to the table, but even more exciting, the company plans to expand the technology to existing wetlands and rice paddies where electricity can be generated on a larger scale. This could give power to some of the world’s poorest places.

Although the idea of using plants and photosynthesis to extract energy is not a new one—for decades middle schoolers have been engineering clocks made from potatoes, which run on a similar principle—Plant-e’s technology is the first to produce electricity from plants without damaging them.

Both projects that lit up the Netherlands this month involved native aquatic plants that were supplied by local greenhouses. The process involves plants growing in modules—two-square-foot plastic containers connected to other modules—where they undergo the process of photosynthesis and convert sunlight, air, and water into sugars. The plants use some of the sugars to grow, but they also discharge a lot of it back into the soil as waste. As the waste breaks down, it releases protons and electrons. Plant-e conducts electricity by placing electrodes into the soil.

Click here for the complete article at yesmagazine.org

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