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First plant-powered sensor sends signal to space

By generating energy with plants and thereby powering sensors, researchers want to send signals to satellites.

A device that uses electricity generated by plants as its power source has communicated via satellite. A world’s first, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

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Combining the energy harvesting technology developed by Plant-e with the extremely power efficient devices from Lacuna Space, these devices are completely self-sustainable and operate independent from sunlight, day and night. - Photos: Lacuna Space
Combining the energy harvesting technology developed by Plant-e with the extremely power efficient devices from Lacuna Space, these devices are completely self-sustainable and operate independent from sunlight, day and night. - Photos: Lacuna Space

Developed by Plant-e and Lacuna Space

The extremely low power device sends signals at radio frequencies that are picked up by satellites in low Earth orbit. It was developed by Dutch company Plant-e and Lacuna Space, which is based in the Netherlands and the UK, under ESA’s programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES).

It transmits data on air humidity, soil moisture and temperature, enabling field-by-field reporting from agricultural land, rice fields or other aquatic environments.

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  • Plant-e is a start-up from Wageningen, the Netherlands. The company has developed a technology to harvest electrical energy from living plants and bacteria to generate carbon-negative electricity.

    Plant-e is a start-up from Wageningen, the Netherlands. The company has developed a technology to harvest electrical energy from living plants and bacteria to generate carbon-negative electricity.

  • The output generates enough energy to power LEDs and sensors in small-scale products.

    The output generates enough energy to power LEDs and sensors in small-scale products.

Inform farmers about conditions of their crops

According to ESA, the device could inform farmers about the conditions of their crops to help increase yield, and enable retailers to gain detailed information about potential harvests.

Harvesting electrons

ESA says plants produce organic matter through photosynthesis, but only part of this matter is used for plant growth. The rest is excreted into the soil through the plant’s roots. In the soil, bacteria around the roots break down this organic matter, releasing electrons as a waste product. The technology developed by Plant-e harvests these electrons to power small electrical devices.

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