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Getting Electricity from Your Garden Plants

Earlier this week I read an article about a Dutch commune ordering trees that will provide electricity for street lights and a mobile phone charge outlet. Trees providing electricity?!?!?

LightbulbInGrassTwo Dutch students, David Strik and Marjolein Helder, of the University of Wageningen in Holland have founded a company called Plant-e where they develop products in which the electric current created by living plants is harvested. How it works is perfectly explained in the video below.

After watching the video you will realise the impact this concept can have. By using plants to generate electricity there is suddenly a possibility for millions of people who are currently living without ANY electricity to have a better life, advance and prosper. Green roofs will provide electricity for houses and buildings and at the same time create a healthier environment especially in large cities.


At the moment, the technology is, of course, limited. It is available, but the amount of power harvested is not a stunning amount. For some, 50 m² to charge a mobile phone is not amazingly practical.

Judging from the video’s below, Plant-e uses semi submersible plants. The water is needed for the process to work. So having a system on your roof is brilliant, you don’t walk on your roof very often. But, if you have limited space, like a small garden and a slanted roof, then this system might not be your cup of tea.

At 200kg/m² the system will be heavy too. For our (planned) garage, this would be 6 tons (6000 kg), that’s a lot. This is only for a surface of 30 m². We might run some LED lights of that.


For larger office- and apartment buildings the idea becomes more practical. Not only because of the stronger structure and the availability of more space.., but also because the system produces power 24/7. Day or night, summer or winter.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 12.20.09Also, in more rural areas, land is more readily available. This means that for people who live way off the grid, having, say, 200 m² of this system might power a laptop and provides these people with a connectivity that can change their world.

Even for us, in Belgium, this means serious consideration for this system. It wouldn’t be a huge problem to allocate 200 m². In fact, if we’d design our garden around it, this is perfectly doable.


And than there’s sustainability. This is, by far, the most sustainable form of energy harvesting I’ve ever seen.

For one, the plants live, and stay alive. Another point is the initial resources needed to set up the system. This has far less impact than solar panels or wind turbines.

The source of energy is unlimited too. Much like tidal energy, or hydro energy. It is pretty constant. Which is important, very important. Solar and wind are not constant and require additional systems to help with down times.


I like practicality. That’s just me. And I love new green technologies, but if I can’t apply it in a domestic environment, I tend to loose interest.

This system, however, does make me think a bit more.

If we’d throw up a couple of photovoltaic panels on the roof of the garage, attach a small turbine, allocated a sizeable piece of the garden to Plant-e, add a couple of batteries and an inverter, and we could totally be in business.

Mind you, it’s the combination that makes this feasible. Trying to harvest enough energy from just one system will be costly, unreliable and not scalable.

A Green Future

Amazing developments like this bring hope. they provide us with a glance into the future. One that is not all bleak, grey and polluted.

A sustainable future is possible. We need people like David and Marjolein to come up with, and market, these technologies. And not just for big industrial implementation, but for the smaller domestic installations too. Especially for the domestic market. It is, after all, us who need to change the future. Plant-e might just be the golden ticket.

(The video below is in Dutch)

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