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Researchers Use Plants to Generate Electricity

Most plants get their energy directly from the sun, using a biochemical process called photosynthesis. A vast, renewable and cheap source of energy could be available to us -- if only we could tap into that process.

We can, say researchers at the University of Georgia.

Ramaraja Ramasamy explains that during photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to split water atoms into hydrogen and oxygen, producing electrons to power the plant's growth. Ramasamy, with the school's Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center, has developed a technology that essentially hijacks the electrons before the plant can use them.

Manipulating structures in the plant cell that capture and store energy, and attaching them to a carbon nanotube, researchers were able to interrupt the pathway the electrons travel, and re-route them through the nanotube conductors and send them along a wire.

Small-scale experiments in his lab have produced electric current levels 100 times larger than those reported in similar systems. "This approach," says Ramasamy, "may one day transform our ability to generate cleaner power from sunlight using plant-based systems."

The researcher says much more work needs to be done to improve the stability and energy output of the device and ready it for commercialization. But Ramasamy foresees its eventual application in remote portable sensors requiring small amounts of power to run, and he believes it will compete well with traditional solar panels.