Monday, February 12, 2018

Electricity from Plants — An Off-the-Grid Way of Lighting Your Room, a Street, a Park


Prometheus, bringer of fire, was punished for the crime of rendering less the sum of human wretchedness (Byron). Can we replace his gift with another? Or will we let the fire we burn, burn us?

by Gaius Publius

In the beginning, before we emerged into civilization, we were given fire as a source of energy — all we had to do was light it.

Now at the other end of our civilized life, we have all the fire we want — all we have to do is not light it.

People are generally pessimistic about the chance our species will escape unscathed the gift of fire that we now so greatly overuse. They think that the warming of the earth will doom most of us in a kind of Great Dying — taking our billions in number down to a fraction of that — and doom the rest who remain to lives more like the Old Stone Age than the NextGen Age of the iPhone 44.

Those that aren't pessimistic about climate solutions fall generally into one of two camps — the party of the "wizards," those who believe that the magic of science will save us without requiring much change in the way we currently live; and the party of the "prophets," those who think that humans must entirely rethink themselves, their lives, their culture, before any solution is possible.

As a small example, wizards see a "smarter grid" and "greener power plants" as a way of serving national energy needs, while prophets see local solutions — rooftop solar, independent village- and town-sized energy facilities — as the only way our species can stay nimble and survive.

Note that the problem being solved by wizards and prophets isn't just a science problem — how to produce our energy — but also a political problem as well. How can a village or town save itself if the national government makes all solutions impossible, as one political party is deliberately does; or promises national solutions that can't possibly work in time, as the other seems to do?

For a nice introduction to these two schools of thought, go here (h/t Naked Capitalism).

Lighting a Room with a Plant

This piece offers a kind of marriage of these two camps, a technologically innovative solution (something wizards will applaud) that nonetheless can be deployed entirely locally (solving the prophets' dilemma).

With this technology, one can light a room with a plant. No plug; just a plant. The technology exists (has existed, in fact, for more than a century) and efforts to scale it up, from a room to a house, a street, and a park, are underway.

The following short video explains it all.

Dutch designer Ermi van Oers has created a lamp that uses a living plant to generate its own electricity – and plans to scale up the technology to power entire smart cities.

Presented at Dutch Design Week, the Living Light uses microorganisms to convert the chemical energy that a plant naturally produces during photosynthesis into an electric current.

Van Oers designed the lamp to be fully self-sufficient, so it can function off-grid, rather than needing to be plugged into an electrical socket.

She has already began to apply the technology – known as microbial energy – to public spaces, and is collaborating with the municipality of Rotterdam to light up one of its parks.

"The potential is huge," she told Dezeen. "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."
Of course, these are early days for this technology, and the efficiency isn't great — efficiency defined as how much light you get from how much plant.

Van Oers acknowledges that "the technology is still new, and that the Living Light can only produce a small amount of energy in its current form. The plant photosynthesises around the clock. But the lamp takes a day to produce enough energy for half an hour's charge – although this can vary depending on the condition of the plant."

Nevertheless, the wizards among us will appreciate that photovoltaic cells weren't very efficient in their early days as well.

And the prophets among us, who understand that freeing ourselves from the death grip of the already rich is the only way solve this problem, will appreciate the simplicity and independence of this solution. Once the technology is mature and available, no politician-dominated utility commission, for example, can forbid you to use it.

Another Easter Island Solution

This is a form, by the way, of my proposed "Easter Island solution" to global warming:
You're a villager on Easter Island. People are cutting down trees right and left, and many are getting worried. At some point, the number of worried villagers reaches critical mass, and they go as a group to the island chief and say, "Look, we have to stop cutting trees, like now."

The chief, who's also CEO of a wood products company, checks his bottom line and orders the cutting to continue.

Do the villagers walk away? Or do they depose the chief?

There's always a choice ...
Cities, town, villages — and individual people — can simply act on their own and do it. In this case, ignoring the chief deposes the chief. It's a form of secession. And there is always a choice.

For more information, see here. For the underlying technology, the use of microbial fuel cells, see here.


Labels: , , , ,


At 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice. But neither method is mentioned in the BUYbull! Republicans will continue to bow and scrape before King Coal and Queen Oil while the DINO-Whigs will continue to grovel at the feet of the Republicans.

At 7:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dino-whig guy, the democraps get tons of money from oil too. they also get coal money though not nearly as much as the Rs. But if a democrap trips and falls into the oval, coal will start lathering up the democraps again... guaranteed.

GP, a slight error: "Those that aren't pessimistic about climate solutions fall generally into one of two camps..."

There is a third camp. It's the one where we realize it's already too late and our grandchildren are already thoroughly fucked no matter what we do or, most likely, don't do.

For anything to be helpful it would require some kind of mega-industrial resinking of atmospheric CO2 to go from 405ppm to 275ppm within a decade, and figure out how 14 billion humans can exist without producing any more than can be sinked; then figure out how to prevent human population from exceeding 14 billion by 2050 and making it so.

There exists no effort in creating that mega-industrial sinking and there cannot ever be any check on human population other than war and natural dying due to the effects of climate change. humans are not capable of doing either.

At 8:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You are correct in your assertions that the DINO-Whigs are also dirty from "Clean Coal contributions", but until they again constitute a majority, they aren't going to get very much. Their minimal influence isn't going to aid the corporatist effort to kill us all with pollution and war.

At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You make a good point. The democraps are in a precarious position and I don't think they fully appreciate it.
They are on the verge, if they continue to promote faux Nazis as democraps, of complete irrelevancy. The only reason they aren't clogging the exits like the Rs are is the noxious trump stink that threatens to make all government into a monty python sketch.

2010 should have taught them that willful and relentless refusal to address the issues of the people will be met with an electorally fatal dose of ambivalence -- which has been noted by the money. No relevance = no money.
As it is, the money is still hedging their political derivitives, which is the ONLY reason the democraps are still in the black. But if the Ds can't take the house IN THIS CYCLE, that money will flee. As will have the voters.

and you can thank reid, Pelosi, scummer, hoyer, DWS, the DNC, the DxCCs, Obama and the Clintons, along with everyone who elected them, for the demise of the democraps' bribe money.

With only a permanently irrelevant ersatz party, what will DWT do pray tell?


Post a Comment

<< Home