Friday, August 28th, 2009

Plastic Trees: Part of the Energy Solution?

Although the notion of renewable energy sources is very much in vogue at the moment, the potential of solar, thermal or wind energy has been discussed for years. To date, however, cost, aesthetics and the ability to produce sufficient energy to replace some of the fossil fuel-based energy sources on which we currently rely has limited their application.

A British company believes, however, that it may have a solution: Plastic trees and plants. (No, these are not the ones that you buy for that family member who seems incapable of caring for a living plant.) Solar Botanic, with recently announced R&D funding from U.S.- based GREENgENERGY, Inc., is developing an innovative and efficient energy solution by combining biomimicry and nanotechnologies in unique, patented, energy-harvesting artificial trees.

Solar Botanic assures that each tree will look realistic despite the fact that the trunk will be made from recycled plastics and rubber, and the “nano-leaves” will contain three separates devices to harvest solar, wind and thermal energy.

Specifically, each of the leaves’ petioles (the stalk attaching the leaf blade to the stem) will hold very small piezoelectric nanogenerators, capable of capturing the wind’s kinetic energy and transforming it into electricity. Each leaf is then comprised of two layers, one containing thermoelectrics to convert solar heat into electricity and the other a photovoltaic layer to transform the sun’s light into electricity. Solar Botanic claims that a single solar tree with a 20 feet canopy should generate enough power to satisfy the needs of an average home. And naturally, the artificial trees will offer the same wind barrier and shade benefits that real trees provide.

In addition to being used to service individual households, Solar Botanic envisages numerous commercial applications from lining highways and car parks (potentially providing the power source to recharge electric cars) to entire artificial tree forests that could make a significant contribution to the national electrical grid.

At this point Solar Botanic expects to release its first prototype tree next summer and there remain, of course, a number of hurdles to this type of technology being introduced on a broader scale. Nonetheless, it’s pretty exciting to think that this may be part of the energy solution. And besides, with the fall just around the corner, the idea of having to rake a few less leaves is pretty attractive too!


One Response to “Plastic Trees: Part of the Energy Solution?”

  1. This is an amazing idea, I can’t wait to see the prototype. I especially like that they will make the products from recycled materials. Such a cool idea, I think they will be getting around a big problem which is aesthetics. Most people don’t want a large array of ugly solar panels on their roof, but a solar tree would be easily palatable.

    Thanks for the info.

    P.S. I found your blog on the BloggersChoiceAwards website and think it is great! I voted for you, I write for the Our Everyday Earth – Green Blog and wondered if you would vote for us in the best Education blog category;

    Thanks in advance :)