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“Power Plants”

One of the most enjoyable things about technology is seeing the new and often unexpected ways in which it’s put to use. An item I recently came across on embedded.com certainly fit the bill for new and unexpected, that’s for sure.

The article described how Swedish researchers “have developed a way to create electronic circuits inside living plants.”

Why, you might ask, would someone want to have circuits in plants? A self-lighting Christmas tree? A wired-for-sound potted fern that sang to itself so that you don’t have to? (This latter reference is to a myth – or is it? – that holds that if you talk or sing to your plants, they’ll grow better.)

Well, here’s why:

“Magnus Berggren, a professor of organic electronics at Linköping University and one of the study’s authors, told The New York Times the technology could, in the future, be used to regulate plant physiology, such as controlling the rate at which flowers bloom or timing their blooms to coincide with appropriate weather conditions or water availability. The result could be the ability to produce more resilient plants without exposing them to chemicals or genetic modification. Other possible applications include harvesting small amounts of electricity from trees or other plants. ‘Today, the most natural way to convert the chemical energy of a tree is to burn it,’ Berggren told the paper, ‘But maybe we could actually gently tap out some of the energy without killing it.’”(Source: EDN)

The approach was prompted by the researchers’ observing that “vascular circuitry” in plants is similar in terms of function to electronic circuits, and found that plants (they experimented with roses) are capable of producing electronic circuits, both analog and digital. Who knew?

The key was finding a way to get conductive polymers into the plants. The way was through something called PEDOT-S, a water-soluble synthetic polymer that used to “wire” the plants through their stems.

“‘Now we can really start talking about power plants,’ [Berggren] added in a statement. ‘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.’”

Power plants, huh?

Technology keeps getting more and more interesting.