Pumping Green Power from Fake Plastic Trees
With all the potential good wind power could do for the carbon economy, one of the objections hindering its implementation is aesthetic; people simply don't want massive turbines dotting the landscape and marring their views. The Dutch founder of London's Solar Botanic Ltd. was wrestling with that very issue in 2002 when the idea began to blossom: why not redesign the technology to blend into the natural world?
Founded last year, Solar Botanic's ambitious goal involves layering existing technologies three-fold into the natural form of a leaf and producing fake power-producing trees that individually could power an entire home. Each "nanoleaf" would incorporate photovoltaics for collecting solar power, thermoelectrics for converting the sun's heat to electricity, and piezoelectric nanogenerators in the leaves' petioles (the stalk connecting the leaf to the branch) that capture the kinetic energy from the wind rustling the leaves.
Solar Botanic estimates that a single tree with a canopy 20 feet in diameter could power an average home, producing about 120,000 kilowatt-hours over two decades. Forests, on the other hand, could power entire population centers. But a more reasonable deployment scenario involves greening up parking lots while providing power to charge electric vehicles or planting the "trees" along highways to capture the turbulence of passing traffic.