Researchers at the Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología (UTEC) have developed a technique for capturing the electricity emitted from plants. Actually, to be fair, it's Geobacter— a genus of bacteria that live in the soil — that do the grunt work. Robby Berman at Slate explains the process: "[N]utrients in plants encounter microorganisms called 'geobacters' in the dirt, and that process releases electrons that electrodes in the dirt can capture. A grid of these electrodes can transfer the electrons into a standard battery."
UTEC has partnered with global ad agency FCB to produce 10 prototypes and distribute them to houses in the rainforest village of Nuevo Saposoa. Each contains an electrode grid buried in dirt, in which a single plant grows. The grid connects to a battery, which powers a large LED lamp attached to an adjustable arm on the outside of the box. The UTEC video below shows the boxes in action (including a money shot of a lamp being triumphantly turned on):
UTEC has a tradition of this sort of humanitarian innovation, Berman explains. "A while back, it found a way of growing plants on platforms using clean moisture pulled from the air in a region whose groundwater—and ground—has been ruined by pollution."
If the "plant lamps" (that's UTEC's name, not mine) are successful, their appeal isn't going to be limited to rainforest communities. Who wouldn't want a houseplant that cut back on their electric bill? Add a bit of green to your bank account and your bedroom.