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Researchers discover new way to harvest electricity from plants

In many ways, plants are the ultimate solar energy technology. Through photosynthesis, plants operate at nearly 100 percent quantum efficiency, meaning that for almost every photon of sunlight that’s absorbed, they produce an equal number of electrons, so it’s no surprise that for years scientists have been trying to either mimic that process through creating artificial leaves or have found ways to tap plants themselves as energy sources.

We’ve seen technologies where the electin the soil near plants’ roots was are used to power a fuel cell and concepts for moss-powered lamps, but this discovery from University of Georgia researchers taps photosynthesis directly for producing electricity.

During photosynthesis, plants use sunlight to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, which produces electrons. Those electrons help create sugars that plants use to fuel growth and reproduction.

“We have developed a way to interrupt photosynthesis so that we can capture the electrons before the plant uses them to make these sugars,” said Ramaraja Ramasamy, assistant professor in the UGA College of Engineering.

The university explains the device:

Ramasamy’s technology involves separating out structures in the plant cell called thylakoids, which are responsible for capturing and storing energy from sunlight. Researchers manipulate the proteins contained in the thylakoids, interrupting the pathway along which electrons flow.
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