These Mad Scientists Want to Replace Solar Panels With Potted Plants

These Mad Scientists Want to Replace Solar Panels With Potted Plants from Wired March 2014

Designer Fabienne Felder wants to reupholster jumbo jets with moss. In her vision, passengers will sit on verdant tufts while the bryophytes purify the air and use electrons captured during photosynthesis to power the Direct TV panels on the seat backs. Many would think Felder was crazy, but biochemist Dr. Paolo Bombelli and plant scientist Ross Dennis from the University of Cambridge were impressed with her brio and offered her the opportunity to collaborate with their lab.

The scientists are researching the potential of photo microbial fuel cells, or photo-MFCs, which are essentially potted plants that act like miniature power plants and transform sunlight into electricity that can power iPads. They aren’t as efficient as traditional photovoltaic solar cells, but are more eco-friendly to manufacture.

Bombelli and Dennis have worked with designers previously and created a concept design called the Moss Table—a surface covered in photo-MFCs that could supposedly power a lamp. In reality, all the prototype cells could power was a small LCD display, but it illustrated the potential. While they appreciated Felder’s gonzo vision, the scientists proposed a project that would be possible this year instead of a decade in the future and decided to build a humble FM radio. . . .