A group of Swedish scientists developed “electronic plants” that could one day produce clean energy. By integrating electrical circuitry into the natural cycles and systems of living plants, the researchers have taken one step closer to creating real “power plants” that could also be used to create innovative new materials.
The Linköping University in Sweden is home to the Laboratory of Organic Electronics (LOE), a group which has studied the vascular system of living roses and begun altering the plants with electric functionality. Plant life relies on the transport of ionic signals and hormones to perform its functions, yet does so at a slow pace. By augmenting plants with electric capabilities, researchers can interface between the chemical processes and the electric ones and observe plant functions more easily and quickly.
“Previously, we had no good tools for measuring the concentration of various molecules in living plants. Now we’ll be able to influence the concentration of the various substances in the plant that regulate growth and development. Here, I see great possibilities for learning more,” said Ove Nilsson, co-author of the group’s article, published in the journal Science Advances, and professor of plant reproduction biology and director of the Umeå Plant Science Center in Sweden.
Professor Magnus Berggren, leader of the LOE, hopes the merging of organic electronics and plant science will result in new forms of environmentally sustainable energy – think photosynthesis-based fuel cells. He says, “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.”