Scientists from the Iowa University have build a artificial tree that generates electricity from the wind.
Michael McCloskey, who is a professor of genetics, development and cell biology led the design of the device, mentioned that the device does not use wind turbines, but it could spawn a niche market.
“The possible advantages here are aesthetics and its smaller scale, which may allow off-grid energy harvesting,” McCloskey said. “We set out to answer the question of whether you can get useful amounts of electrical power out of something that looks like a plant. The answer is ‘possibly,’ but the idea will require further development.”
He said that some telephone towers have been made into trees and their leaves can be used for electricity production.
The co author of the paper Curtis Mosher, said that it will not take a great deal of time to make a prototype the size of a large tree.
“It’s definitely doable, but the trick is accomplishing it without compromising efficiency,” he said. “More work is necessary, but there are paths available.”
Strips of special plastic built in the leafs produce electricity when bend from the wind. Those processes are known also as piezoelectric effects. The leaves of the cottonwood were modeled because their flattened shape make the strips oscilliate in a pattern that optimizes energy production.
The proffesor of genetics, development and cell biology Eric Henderson believes that in the future such trees would power household appliances.
He mentioned that such technology could be used by people who want to generate electric energy without using large turbines or towers.
The lead author said that they must find an alternate way to convert the transduction into usable energy.
Currently the piezoelectric model has not achieved the efficiency it will need to compete on the market.
Such model was used because the materials for it were easily available, but making a more efficient one will require different kind of approach.
There are other transduction methods like triboelectricity that can be used, but it will require better efficiency and more research for a practical device.