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How can we harvest energy from trees?

Image credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/2tvkoVK8prc

jnikola Jul 14, 2022
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There are around three trillion (3 000,000,000,000) trees on Earth. We need them because they produce oxygen, food (fruits), shade, are home to millions of animal species and help fight global warming by capturing CO2. They also grow big and strong and have a huge leaf surface. However, people cut forests enormously, as described in this challenge.
The ask
  • Is there a way how we can harvest the energy from trees, without harming them?
  • Can we somehow turn millions of acres of forests into giant powerplants, while preserving the "lungs of our planet" intact?
  • Can we somehow use/collect/transform the force created or energy stored by trees?
  • Is there a way, an invention, law or policy that could turn trees into a real renewable energy resource?
Guidelines for the brainstorming
While thinking of a solution to this problem, please be careful to take into consideration the following:
  • try not to cut trees
  • make it implementable/applicable in short future (next 20 years)
  • try to preserve the existing forests or increase their number
  • make it up-scaleable
  • make us think it would work!
Creative contributions

Energy from a series of trees "swaying" in the wind

jnikola Jul 15, 2022
People have been trying to harvest the energy of the tree movement caused by wind in numerous ways. A group of scientists investigated the amount of energy and power available from the motion of a tree in a sheltered position and found that the generated power could be enough to power the wireless sensors. Another group showed that the power generated by the tree is highly dependent on a tree's height and the mechanism of how the energy is translated . and could be of great economic value on highways or on the roadside, where the effect of wind is strong.
  • Connecting many trees in a forest in series using fixed bars in order to translate the movement from the wind into electrical energy.
  • Connecting up to 10 trees in parallel to charge a single battery using a wind-caused tree movement.
How would it work?
It was shown that movement of one tree can generate small amounts of energy. I would use the same system as described in this paper to harvest electrical energy from multiple trees at once. The energy from multiple trees would be stored in a single battery and used for different purposes. The key thing would be to connect these energy-harvesting mechanisms of a single tree into series (Figure).





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General comments

Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain2 years ago
I think the problem with harvesting energy from any biological system bottom up is with the scale and translation. Hypothetically, if we could build transistors and capacitors with high enough resolution to capture the energy from the electron transport chain (the energy generating process linked to photosynthesis), we would be able to collect the electrical energy. However, the reactions occur at molecular level (cytochromes are the enzymes that catalyze these reactions), and it is indeed a herculean task even to conceptualize a way to build transistors coupled to such molecules- and to do so at scale that the 'net' amount of electrical energy we capture is enough to do any real work. If we could somehow solve this problem, every tree, every plant would be a powerhouse of its own.
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jnikola2 years ago
Subash Chapagain I agree. From the examples I posted you can see that harvesting energy from trees is not only an idea but an actual concept that is being developed at the moment. You correctly defined the problem of scaling up and that is where we need the biggest improvement to make it work.
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Povilas S
Povilas S2 years ago
Subash Chapagain What about electrical signals in larger plant cells/those that travel greater distances, like in plant roots used for communication with mycorrhizal fungi and other trees? Maybe it would be easier to harvest those?
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Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain2 years ago
Povilas S Like I mentioned earlier, the electric signals in cells are very small. Even in excitable cells like the nerve cells, the membrane potential that allows for electrical signalling is in the range of –80 to –70 millivolts, which is pretty small. To build electrodes that can connect to enough number of cells and channel the electrical energy into somehow unified fashion to amplify it should be extremely challenging. However, in some cases like that of sting rays or fireflies, evolution seems to have worked out a way of generating large enough electric potential to say, give an electric shock, or to light biological bulb. I wouldn't say what you proposed is not biologically possible, but the complexity that we might need to overcome to attain this is tremendous. If we can crack the exact mechanisms to not just generate but to harvest bioelectricity, we could perhaps solve this.
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jnikola2 years ago
UPDATE: Generating electricity from tree trunk by using Peltier element
Scientists tested if there is a temperature gradient between the surface of a tree (bark) and its internal structure . Not only did they prove there is a temperature gradient, but they also showed that it's big enough to generate electricity using the Peltier element. However, the cheapest, most efficient and up scalable solution to implement the Peltier cell directly onto the tree still remains unknown and open for innovation.UPDATE:


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