Lamps, Streetlights, and Bomb-Detection Powered By Plants and Vegetables

February 8, 2018 by

 Photo via Living Lights.

Read by the light of your arugula and kale? Researchers at MIT in Massachusetts are embedding specialized nanoparticles into the leaves of plants and vegetables such as arugula, kale, spinach, and watercress to create…edible lights and even bomb-sniffing plants? Across the pond, a Dutch start-up, Living Light, is creating beautiful light fixtures that harvest the electricity generated by plants, a process  they’ve dubbed “a cross-pollination of nature, science & design.” 

Illumination of a book (“Paradise Lost,” by John Milton) with two nanobionic light-emitting watercress plants. Photo,  Seon-Yeong Kwak, via MIT.

Both the Living Light and MIT’s lighting research are based on biomimicry, an area of design and production of materials, structures, and systems that draw inspiration from nature by modeling biological processes. The “petals” of engineer/designer Julian Melchiorri’s gorgeous bionic chandelier Exhale contain algae that simulate the natural process of photosynthesis, releasing oxygen to purify the air.

Photo via Living Lights.

Living Light
Living Light is a design-worthy atmospheric handblown glass light fixture that generates its own electricity from a plant living. Developed by Ermi van Oers and her team in cooperation with Plant-e, the technology is based on “plant microbial fuel cell” technology, or energy generated by bacteria in the soil which is then harvested by microbial fuel cells.

Photo via Living Lights.

Designed to be self-sufficient and function off-grid, Living Light converts the chemical energy that a plant naturally produces during photosynthesis into an electrical current that lights up LEDs.

Photo via Living Lights.

According to Van Oers, the system is applicable to all plants that live in wet ground. Streetlights, she suggested, could be connected to trees to provide light in areas without an electrical grid.

Image via Living Lights.

“What is more beautiful than getting electricity from living plants?” says Marjolein Helder, Plant-e CEO. “Your environment is able to generate electricity while you are still able to enjoy nature.”

Glowing MIT logo printed on the leaf of an arugula plant. The mixture of nanoparticles was infused into the leaf using lab-designed syringe termination adaptors. The image is merged of the bright-field image and light emission in the dark. Photo,  Seon-Yeong Kwak, via MIT.

MIT’s Nanobiotic Lights
Engineers at MIT believe that “nanobionic plants” might one day replace some electrical lighting. While Living Light functions employing the principles of photosynthesis, the MIT researchers are producing four hours of dim light by embedding luciferase, an enzyme that gives fireflies their glow, into the leaves of the plants.

Plant as Desk Lamp
“The vision is to make a plant that will function as a desk lamp — a lamp that you don’t have to plug in. The light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself,” says Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and the senior author with lead author Seon-Yeong Kwak of the MIT study, which appears in the journal Nano Letters.

Luciferase acts on the molecule luciferin, causing it to emit light, while co-enzyme (another enzyme) assists in the process, removing a reaction by-product that can inhibit luciferase activity. The team makes all nanoparticles from materials that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration deems “generally regarded as safe.”

Transform Trees Into Self-Powered Streetlights
Any type of plant or vegetable will do the trick. So far, they’ve generated light from a one 10-centimeter watercress seedling–emitting only about one-thousandth of the amount needed to read by–but the researchers believe that by further optimizing the amount and duration of the emitted light, such plants will one day be bright enough to illuminate a workspace, provide low-intensity indoor lighting, and transform trees into self-powered streetlights.

Bomb-Sniffing Spinach
Having previously designed plants that can detect explosives and communicate that information to a smartphone, as well as plants that can monitor drought conditions, the MIT researchers aim to engineer plants that can replace many of the functions currently performed by electrical devices.

Image via MIT.

“Plants can self-repair, they have their own energy, and they are already adapted to the outdoor environment,” According to Strano. “We think this is an idea whose time has come. It’s a perfect problem for plant nanobionics.”

This is all cool enough to make any un-illuminated houseplant or kitchen greens wilt from jealousy.

Want to light up your room with a Living Light? Pre-order one now directly from Living Light.

H/T Materia.

The freshest innovative and eco-friendly designs, trends, and ideas for urban gardens and stylish small places.

Visit Robin Horton @UrbanGardens's profile on Pinterest.