World’s first plant-powered sensor transmits to satellite

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Plant-powered electricity could hold key to bringing energy to poorer communities

Plant power may be key to providing energy to poorer communities with the world’s first plant-powered sensor transmitting to a satellite in space.

The pilot Internet of Things (IoT) service, using plants as its energy source, can transmit messages about air humidity, soil moisture, temperature, cell voltage and electrode potential straight to the satellite. This can then potentially be used for data gathering from agricultural land, rice fields or other aquatic environments without the need for any external energy sources.

The sensor doesn’t need batteries and will operate independent from sunlight, day and night – electricity will be produced as long as plants continue to grow, say its creators.

Capturing energy from plants

The prototype device has been developed by Dutch start-up Plant-e and the UK’s Lacuna Space, and is supported by the ARTES programme from the European Space Agency (ESA). Plant-e’s technology harvests electrical energy from living plants and soil bacteria to generate carbon-negative electricity. The output generates enough energy to power LEDs and sensors in small-scale products.

This collaboration shows how effective plant-electricity already is at its current state of development,” says Plant-e CEO Marjolein Helder. “We hope this inspires others to consider plant-electricity as a serious option for powering sensors.

Lacuna Space’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite system will provide a global IoT service which will allow collecting data from sensors even in remote areas with little or no connectivity. The company’s pilot service currently has one satellite in orbit, with three more satellites awaiting launch during the next few months.

This opens up a new era in sustainable satellite communications,” says Rob Spurrett, CEO and co-founder of Lacuna Space. “There are many regions in the world that are difficult to reach making regular maintenance expensive and the use of solar power impossible. Through this technology we can help people, communities and companies in those regions to improve their lives and businesses.”

Frank Zeppenfeldt who works on future satellite communication systems in ESA, adds that “a number of new opportunities for satellite-based Internet-of-Things will be enabled by this.”

How Plant-e capture energy from plants:

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Christine writes about technology’s impact on business, and is a long-term contributor to specialist IT titles including Channel Pro and Microscope. She also writes for Raconteur and is regularly featured in The Times and Sunday Times.

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