Villages in the rainforests of Peru have a problem: many of them don’t have access to a reliable electrical grid, making it difficult for residents to light their homes after dark. Families are forced to use harmful kerosene lamps for illumination, releasing unhealthy fumes and putting their homes at risk of fire. Now, researchers at Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC) have found a solution: “plant lamps” that draw power from dirt and vegetation.

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The lamps rely on a type of bacteria called “geobacters,” which oxidize nutrients in the soil produced by nearby plants. This process naturally generates electricity, which scientists are able to capture by placing electrodes in the soil. By transferring the energy to a battery, villagers can light a portable LED lamp. The video below shows UTEC’s plant lamp in action:

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So far, UTEC and its partner organization FCB Mayo have provided 10 of the lamps to residents of Nuevo Saposoa, a village that has been without power since a flood last March damaged the cables connecting residents to the grid. Each lamp is connected to a wooden box with a drawer holding electrodes and dirt, with a single plant on top. Now, children in the village can study at night without breathing harmful fumes or sitting next to an open flame.


Via MIT Technology Review

Images via UTEC