2
$\begingroup$

Bioo, a new company making the rounds in the press, claims to produce "electricity from plants' photosynthesis." Specifically, their website claims that a single potted plant with their integrated system provides "night and day electrical production," allowing for 2 to 3 "charges" of a cell phone per day ("Power: 5.0v, 1.0A") and "Exponential Electrical Production," whatever that means. Their website and IndieGoGo campaign provide no actual explanation of how this works. They basically say, it's super simple, even you can understand it, here is how it works: the plant undergoes photosynthesis, and we turn the byproducts into energy! That basically means and explains nothing.

I know that James Franck studied synthetic photosynthesis in his later years, and others have investigated the endeavor since. But actually synthesizing, tapping into, or otherwise seriously accruing energy via photosynthesis, synthetic or otherwise, and not counting methods involving the burning of organic materials (secondary or tertiary to the photosynthetic process), seems far from possible now. So what is this plant probably doing, if anything?

I've heard of similar systems, but nothing with any more coherent an explanation. Apparently solar panels can generate about 16W/square foot, which is a lot more than this plant thing claims to, so outside of the aesthetic is there even any point to a soil-based generator like this (presuming it is real and works?)?

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This was also asked on the skeptics stack exchange. $\endgroup$ – Craig Gidney Apr 28 '16 at 18:04
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ One can produce quite a bit of energy trough plants, but it requires a non-trivial number of bulls, which eat the plants and then produce manure (aka "shit"), which then can be dried into patties and burned in a conventional power plant. The process is known as "bullshitting" and it has a rather low efficiency. $\endgroup$ – CuriousOne Apr 28 '16 at 18:21
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @CuriousOne the process is very efficient for turning ignorance (of investors) into cash flow (flor company). But not so good at turning sunlight into electricity. $\endgroup$ – Floris Apr 28 '16 at 18:23
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Floris: I agree... but one can do that with solar panels and nano-particles, too. Nanosolar (RIP) has been extracting billions from investors as sophisticated as Google a decade ago. In comparison, this is small potatoes (pun!). $\endgroup$ – CuriousOne Apr 28 '16 at 18:27
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Floris: That is the difficulty with the Schockley-Queisser limit... we need a mechanism that "sorts" different charge carrier energies/momenta and "adds" them instead of applying them in parallel. The straight forward solution is by using multi-junction cells which are electrically in series, blue on top, then green, red and IR absorbing junctions on the bottom, but that's expensive to manufacture. If one could find a nano-material that can use quantum mechanics to coherently transfer individual energies before thermalizing them on the lattice, that would solve the problem. No luck, so far. $\endgroup$ – CuriousOne Apr 28 '16 at 18:47
3
$\begingroup$

This question appears to be a pseudo-duplicate on the Skeptics exchange, as pointed out by @CraigGidney. The highlights of the comments here and answer there appear to be that:

1) Yes, one could potentially accrue some electricity from soil.

2) No, it would not (ever) be sufficient to charge an iPhone, let alone 3 times.

3) In the comments here, "there is no competition to solar panels in terms of thermodynamic efficiency" (@CuriousOne).

Searching the web, we skeptics find multiple claims from people claiming they can "harvest electrons" "non invasively" from plants. When asked how this is done, the overwhelming answer appears to be "technology." As in, "how did you fly to Mars over the weekend?" "Technology." "Cool!"

As an aside, there appears to be some legitimate science at work in the get-energy-from-plants-game. But it is very much in research-stage, and very much invasive, and very much not being funded by IndieGoGo.

TL;DR: The product is probably a lie.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I would agree with this overall assessment. One could add one additional rule: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." $\endgroup$ – CuriousOne Apr 28 '16 at 18:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.