PlantPower; living plants generate electricity

The plant microbial fuel cell (PMFC) is a novel technology which generates electricity in a renewable and likely sustainable way. The plants transform solar energy into organic matter which is transformed into electricity by electrochemically active bacteria in the fuel cell. The proof‐of‐principle was realized in 2007 by Wageningen University with financial support of Nuon. This living biosolar cell may be implemented anywhere plants can grow and enough water is available. The first estimates of the theoretical long term electricity output of this system was 0.066 W/m2. Nowadays long term performance at 0.22 W/m2 is reached. An European research consortium works towards a maximum electricity output of 3 W/m2. With cheap carbon electrodes the technology can produce affordable electricity in a clean and sustainable way.
The first implementation of the PMFC, currently developed by Plant‐e, is the green electricity roof. Within this application the advantages of a green roof and electricity production are combined. Plant‐e is the spin‐off company of Wageningen University and has the ambition to implement the technology worldwide. A pilot project of the green electricity roof is being executed at the roof of KNAW‐NIOO. Most pronounced bottle neck of the project is the cathode performance. The cathode needs oxygen as final electron acceptor which can be derived from the air or photosynthetic organisms.
By combining the advantages of a green roof (e.g. increase lifetime roof, building insulation/cooling, plants) with the PMFC, an affordable product may arise. On a flat roof of 50 m2, reasonably sized roof in the Netherlands, 150 W could be continuously produced which is approximately one‐third of a
household’s electricity need.
BioSolar cells has this project in the project portfolio of the (semi)artificial biosolar cells since the knowledge about electrodes and electrochemistry is accumulated in this theme. This will lead to at least one important additional option: to make bioelectricity from photosynthesis. In addition, BioSolar cells aims for integration between themes as well, and this project plays here potentially an important role. The project originates from the plant side, 
It is unique in that it uses the two products of photosynthesis, chemicals and oxygen by in‐situ transformation into electricity by electrochemically active bacteria in a fuel cell. PMFC technology will thus benefit from improved photosynthesis, and offers a platform to develop further by a possible integration of
technological advances from the other BIoSolar Cells themes. In particular, the photosynthesis products could come from photosynthetic microorganisms. When engineered microorganisms become available that produce large amounts of nutrients while circumventing biomass production, this will open up new possibilities for enhancing the PMFC yield by integration with the systems biology and synthetic biology core projects.
Partners in this project are Wageningen UR, Plant-e and Alliander.
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