In off-grid communities, the power of plants can be harnessed to create just enough electricity to change lives.
As its Spanish name suggests, the Plantalámparas is a lamp that runs on plant power. Designed to be used in a remote Peruvian village that has no access to electricity, the Wall-E lookalike takes power from a plant living in a wooden box and uses it to light an LED lamp.
The device comes from UTEC, the Universidad de Ingenieria y Tecnologia, and is running in Nuevo Saposoa, a Peruvian community five hours away from the nearest city, accessible only by boat. Nuevo Saposoa is home to just 173 people, and has no power thanks to a flood last March that damaged power cables in the region. Until the new lamps were brought in, residents had to use smoky kerosene lamps to work and study by.
The Plantalámparas uses the byproducts of photosynthesis to power the lamp. When the plant creates energy from sunlight, it deposits waste products into the soil. These decompose, thanks to microorganisms in the soil, and undergo oxidization, which produces electrons. Electrodes in the soil gather this energy and store it in batteries, where it can be used to light LED bulbs that have the equivalent output of a 50-watt incandescent bulb.
The project could have a bright future in Peru, where 42% of the rural rainforest population has no electricity. What they do have is an abundance of plants and soil, and the water to keep things moist enough to keep the Plantalámparas happy. It’s certainly not a large-scale solution to a lack of infrastructure—you won’t be running a factory off plant power any time soon—but as this video shows, electric light can extend the daytime into the night-time, which lets children study after dark, without burning fossil fuels to do it.