Plant-e was commissioned this autumn by the Province of Zuid-Holland and the Delfland Water Board to conduct a pilot in which green electricity is generated by plants growing on the wet grasslands near the N470 provincial motorway in the Netherlands. This is the first time the Dutch startup has tested this method of generating power outside of a laboratory.
Plant-e was acclaimed one the world’s most promising Technology Pioneers by the World Economic Forum last summer, which puts the company in the same league as Google, AirBnB and Twitter. Plant-e director Marjolein Helder: ‘We are very proud of the recognition we received from the World Economic Forum. Of course we already won the confidence of the Province of Zuid-Holland and the Water Board before receiving this international acclaim. The test set-up in Zuid-Holland was a big step for us to ensure that this system will become a full-fledged alternative for generating sustainable energy.’
The technology works as follows: pipes are laid on a plot of grassland, between the roots and the grass. Grass excretes organic material through its roots, which is broken down by micro-organisms in the soil. In this process, electrons are released as a waste product which are then captured in the pipes and harvested as electricity. Following the further development of this technology the energy can be used to power lights incorporated into crash barriers, or other traffic lighting. The pilot was developed to discover how much electricity plants can yield.
The startup has taken this technology to a higher level than anywhere else in the world. ‘I dare say that we are the only ones in the world to conduct practical tests at this level,’ says Pim de Jager of Plant-e. A big advantage to generating electricity from plant growth is that it all takes place underground and is therefore not visible. The pipes used in the test set-up protruded slightly above the ground, but this will soon no longer be necessary,’ explains De Jager. ‘You can keep using your land as you would normally. Nothing changes, except that it will be producing electricity.’
Currently, electricity derived from plants is not yet able to compete with other methods of sustainable energy generation. Plant-e intends to further develop this pipe system and hopes that the price per kilowatt hour will be comparable to that of solar and wind energy in the next few years to come – and ultimately with that of our current ‘grey’ electricity (electricity from non-renewable sources).
Source: NOS/Province of Zuid-Holland. Photo: Mario Bentvelsen.