Future Holds: Wires and Super-Capacitors to be Produced Inside Plants

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For the first time, a special structure for storing energy known as a supercapacitor has been created in a plant. The plant, a rose, can be charged and discharged hundreds of times without any failure or decrement in its performance.

In November 2015, some results were presented by a research group showing that they had brought about absorption of a conducting polymer solution into roses. The conducting hydrogel formed in the rose’s stem is in the form of wires. A fully functional transistor was made, with one electrode at each end and a gate in the middle.

Assistant Professor Roger Gabrielsson, a prominent member of the group, has now developed a material designed specifically for this application. The material in the rose polymerizes inside without any external trigger. The essential distinctive fluid that flows inside the rose contributes to create elongated conducting threads, not only in the stem but also throughout the plant, out into its leaves and petals.

“We have been able to charge the rose repeatedly, for hundreds of times without any loss of the performance of the device. The levels of energy storage we have achieved are of the same order of magnitude as those in super-capacitors. The plant can, without any form of optimization of the system, potentially power our ion pump, for example, and various types of sensors,” says Eleni Stavrinidou. She works at Laboratory of Organic Electronics as an Assistant Professor.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), is the scientific journal that published the results of this study recently.

“This research is in a very early stage, and what the future will bring is an open question,” says Eleni Stavrinidou.

For example, the possibility of creating fuel cells inside plants, and the possibility of harvesting energy from plants to power sensors and various types of switches, would direct us towards autonomous energy systems.

“A few years ago, we demonstrated that it is possible to create electronic plants, ‘power plants’, but we have now shown that the research has practical applications. We have not only shown that energy storage is possible, but also that we can deliver systems with excellent performance,” says Professor Magnus Berggren, head of the Laboratory of Organic Electronics, Linköping University, Campus Norrköping.

The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation funded unrestricted research grants for the research into electronic plants.

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