Moss FM is the world’s first plant-powered radio! The neatly arranged pots of moss form a Photo Microbial Fuel Cell that captures electrons generated during photosynthesis and converts them into electricity, even when there is no light. The project was developed by Swiss designer Fabienne Felder in collaboration with Cambridge University scientists Dr. Paolo Bombelli and Ross Dennis. While the technology is still in its infancy, the team hopes that it will become commercially viable in as little as five to ten years.
As Dezeen explains, the Photo-MFCs used in Moss FM are formed from a composite of water-retaining materials, conductive materials and biological matter, on top of which the moss grows. The ten pots that power the radio are linked to anodes that collect the electrons generated by photosynthesis and cathodes where the electrons are consumed. An external circuit connects the entire system.
Fabienne Felder constructed the radio entirely from discarded materials, and set it up “like a biochemistry experiment,” allowing for further study of the Photo-MFCs. The piece is notable not only because it is the first “plant-powered radio,” but because it is the first time that the emerging biophilic technology has been used to power anything that requires more electricity than an LCD display.
Moss appealed to the designers for a number of reasons. Not only can the particular genus of bryophytes “operate as potentially better photo-active components in Photo-MFCs due to particularities in their photosynthetic process,” but they can also lower carbon dioxide levels, improve air quality, increase humidity, and “provide a visually and tangibly calming experience.” And we’d be hard-pressed to make those same claims about any other source of renewable energy.
At this stage, Moss FM captures only about 0.1% of electrons produced during photosynthesis, but the researchers expect that this can be improved upon with further research and development. But even with the technology’s current level of efficiency, Felder notes that “If 25% of Londoners (ca. 2.7 million people) charged their mobile phone on average for 2 hours every other day with moss, we would save enough electricityto power a small town: 42.5 million kWh, amounting to a saving of £6.81 Million and 39632 Tons of CO2 a year.”