In news: A plant has taken the botanical world's first selfie, according to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).The maidenhair fern, named Pete, was able to take a picture of itself after ZSL scientists installed microbial fuel cells to harness the energy of the plant.

  • The ability of shade-loving plants to produce low-levels of energy to supply fuel cells would revolutionise wildlife monitoring. The technology could help scientists learn more about remote rainforests.
  • The ultimate aim is to use plants to power camera traps and sensors in the wild.
  • Plants naturally deposit bio-matter as they grow, which in turn feeds the natural bacteria present in the soil, creating energy that can be harnessed by fuel cells and used to power a wide range of vital conservation tools remotely, including sensors, monitoring platforms and camera traps.

A microbial fuel cell is a device that converts chemical energy to electrical energy by the action of microorganisms, in this case found in the soil.

How plant energy is captured

  • Under sunlight, plants produce sugars and oxygen from water and CO2 (photosynthesis).
  • These sugars do not remain in the leaves but are transported throughout the plant to the stem and roots.
  • Some of these sugars are excreted by the roots as a waste product from the plant.
  • Soil microorganisms break this down further, releasing energy. This energy is captured using an anode and a cathode and charge a super capacitor.
  • When the super capacitor is full, the power is discharged and a photo is taken.