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Gardens might soon be power plants, scaled up to whole landscapes generating domestic electricity. "With a tangle of bright red cables spilling out from among the plants' roots, this grass is wired to the hilt and produces electricity day and night," New Scientist reports. After all, there is "potential in harvesting electrons released among plant roots" in damp, conductive soil, and this "could eventually generate a significant portion of our domestic electricity needs, making juice that will be even greener than power from solar panels or wind turbines."
Researchers in the Netherlands have narrowed in not on trees or other charismatic megaflora—not future forests sparkling with electrical storms between branches—but on any plant "with shallow roots that thrives in damp or waterlogged soil where oxygen is scarce." More specifically, this means marsh grasses and reeds (though we read that "the technology should have particular appeal in Asia, where it could be used to turn millions of hectares of rice paddies into power stations").
The techniques under study in Holland currently involve a specially designed electrode that can harvest excess electricity from otherwise organic plantlife. But, as various species (sugar beet, rice, marsh grass) are trialled, and as chemically different soil matrices are reviewed, it's not hard to imagine a forthcoming scenario for landscape design in which genetically-modified plants grown in carefully mixed artificial soils, fertilized with conductive nutrients and finely wired with grids of geotextile mats, become the gardens of the late 21st century. Warm electric landscapes power houses through the darkness of peak oil, as increasingly efficient landscape formats get tested day after day by amateur planters, who rearrange their backyard plots based not on aesthetics but on the potential for electrical interchange.
(Earlier on BLDGBLOG: Shining Path).