Electric trees preventing forest fires!

While people have been aware for a considerable period of time that an electric charge potential exists between plants and soil (specifically in the xylem of the plants), it is only in recent times that people have started to utilize it. An American company Voltree Power is leading the way. They have developed a bio energy converter, that will power sensor that will be used to detect wildfires starting. In effect, the Trees are actively helping protecting themselves.

Sensors in the forest.
The network is comprised of thousands of temperature and humidity sensors, which are placed across a vast swath of the woodlands on the trees.  They are made up of a wireless transmitter that can communicate that a fire has started, or if conditions are more likely to lead to a forest fire.  While this in itself is fascinating,  the real magic is Voltree’s bio-energy converter powers them all, removing at one stroke the necessity of maintaining and changing countless batteries, across thousands of trees. This has always been the stumbling block on which the remote forest management has fallen.  The bio-energy converter picks up the electric charge that is generated between the soil and the tree, and it is this that powers the unit.  The sensors are placed in to the tree trunk and nearby in the soil, basically it is a modern version of the potato battery experiment from science class.  The charge is small, at about a few hundred millivolts, but this can be stored thus making it more accessible.

Long Lasting?
The converter is designed as environmentally benign to make and that it does not produce light or sound, so there is no secondary pollution in the woods. It will last as long as the host, the tree on which it has been placed is alive. So the tree in effect is giving a charge of life, to power the unit, which helps ensure that it stays from fire. Technology and nature in a symbiotic relationship.

Where to from here?
Voltree have some interesting ideas for adapting this technology in to wider society, such as border protection, examining climate change and farming applications. Imagine an orchard that can tell its irrigation system “I’m ok for water today, it is not that hot” or electric fences that only turn on when animals approach them.  In a world that is going to be defined by climate change and water shortage over the next 50 years, the potential savings to supply and energy are limitless.  All that is needed are trees.

Author: Eric has always been fascinated by woodlands and trees and worked planting forests in his youth. He is always interested in new approaches to woodland management and ideas that support our green heritage and make them a part of our life, such as planting Memorial Trees.

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1 Comments Say Something
  • Fascinating article. I think that the real next step in science is going to be the amalgamation of the technical with the natural. Man will change nature to meet his needs, not physically but at a more profound level.

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