How do you think this Bioolite charger works?

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xr280xr
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How do you think this Bioolite charger works?

by xr280xr » Tue May 10, 2016 8:09 pm

There's video going around advertising a product called Bioo Lite that is a potted plant with a USB charger built in that can supposedly charge your phone from energy produced by the plant:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QO1p32B-pqk[/youtube]

At first I thought it sounded like marketing BS and what was really happening was it was just using the fertilized soil as an electrolyte to generate a current so it really had nothing to do with the plant at all. But then I saw this video with a little more detail:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5APfpfyrRNg[/youtube]

Any insight on what this "waste" produced by the roots is and what the microorganisms might be? I've heard of roots exuding extra hydrogen as well as compounds to fend off pests and fungus. I'm not sure it would be "without harm" to the plant if microorganisms were eating the latter.
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Re: How do you think this Bioolite charger works?

by nimbulan » Tue May 10, 2016 8:24 pm

I've read about a similar device being used to power light bulbs in very poor countries. I don't recall how it worked.

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Re: How do you think this Bioolite charger works?

by edman007 » Tue May 10, 2016 9:20 pm

One of three things, and I can't quite differante between the possible answers.

  1. It's a water activated battery, water, along with conductive chemicals from the soil add to form an electrolyte, activating the battery, it would have to be one time use, wouldn't last long at all.
  2. It does what they seem to claim, that is uses bacteria to consume something in the pot and then a membrane of some sort of extract energy out of the byproducts. Flaws here are photosynthesis byproducts don't normally exit to the soil, and causing them to do so would harm the plant. Plants and bacteria generally have a low metabolic rate which would limit power, and the energy has to come from somewhere, whatever that source is would be rapidly depleted unless it was the plant (you could extract the sap, and extract energy out of it, but it's a slow process and plants don't have much to spare, however that's the only way you're getting endless power. Also the tech for this stuff is in it's infancy, and we are just now able to prove it's possible, this can't be produced on a commercial scale.
  3. This is an art students project for class to create a advertisement, it's probably their final. As such there is no/minimal science behind it and the product doesn't exist. It's probably intended to mimic #2.

My guess is answer #3, especially with the posting date being just about the week of finals.

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Re: How do you think this Bioolite charger works?

by xr280xr » Tue May 10, 2016 9:42 pm

  1. My first suspicion as well.
  2. My thoughts too. Also interesting that it doesn't seem to need to be a specific type of plant. My question, though, is if it is real, what compounds are the roots of common houseplants producing, what kind of microorganisms, and what are the microorganisms producing?
  3. Good theory! But if so they're doing a pretty thorough job and have managed to hoax several news sources: http://www.arkynetechnologies.com/#!news-bioo/xfr8h
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Re: How do you think this Bioolite charger works?

by edman007 » Tue May 10, 2016 10:19 pm

So, if you actually wanted to make a battery run off a plants photosynthesis you would hook into the plant, and suck sap out. The main photosynthesis products are ATP, NADP+, and glucose, ATP and NADP+ are highly reactive, and the plant mostly uses them to make glucose and other byproducts, glucose and sometimes fructose, sucrose and other sugars made from glucose are produced, they move into the sap, and the plant moves them around and eventually uses the sugar to either make energy stores (starch, like what you see in potatoes and fat like what you see in avocados or some of the fatty grains we get our oil from like corn), starch and fat is practically non-existent in sap.

Anyways, if you wanted a battery, you would take sap, which is mostly water, glucose and trace minerals. You can easily extract energy from glucose, the simplest is let the sap air dry, it will form glucose crystals (and stuff) which can be burned and used to power any type of heat engine to get power. But the ideal goal is a BioBattery, which works just like a fuel cell but uses glucose instead of hydrogen (similar concept, but a lot more difficult in practice). Anyways, in practice we have glucose powered batteries, but nothing that can be commercialized yet. There are a thousand other ways to make glucose into energy, yeast will turn it into alcohol if you want that, can stick it into a flex fuel car and use a car charger, plenty of other ways to do it, really depends on what you can make work for you.

Also, plants are not dumb (with their glucose usage), they don't spew glucose out of their roots, they consume it, and if they release it attracts all kinds of things that want to eat it, it's essentially giving away stuff, and you don't do it for free (carnivorous plants do spew glucose out on their traps and flowers however, they like attracting bugs to those spots). So you're not going to find it in the soil, there are trace hormones and stuff released, but nothing you really could use to get power from. But sticking a needle into the plant will get it, and we do it to make maple syrup.

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Re: How do you think this Bioolite charger works?

by xr280xr » Wed May 11, 2016 6:28 pm

So given that plants aren't just expelling glucose into the ground and this device is claiming it doesn't invade or harm the plant, maybe it is actually effectively making use of other secretions from the roots' respiration.

This article states:

Low-M r compounds such as amino acids, organic acids, sugars, phenolics, and various other secondary metabolites are believed to comprise the majority of root exudates, whereas high-M r exudates primarily include mucilage (high-M r polysaccharides) and proteins.


The only way I can see it not straining or draining the plant is if their microorganisms already naturally occur and consume the root exudates. Otherwise you'd be asking it to use its energy to produce more of them than it normally would.

edman007 wrote:There are trace hormones and stuff released, but nothing you really could use to get power from.


This is what my questions boil down to I guess. What could it be producing to generate that kind of power? Sounds like you don't think it could, which would leave us with it just being two metal plates stuck in the electrolyte of the soil's nutrients.
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Re: How do you think this Bioolite charger works?

by edman007 » Thu May 12, 2016 5:12 am

xr280xr wrote:
edman007 wrote:There are trace hormones and stuff released, but nothing you really could use to get power from.


This is what my questions boil down to I guess. What could it be producing to generate that kind of power? Sounds like you don't think it could, which would leave us with it just being two metal plates stuck in the electrolyte of the soil's nutrients.


So as an actual example, roots do give off ethlyne, it's used as a growth regulator to direct roots around rocks and stuff (they grow wherever it can dissipate through the soil). The active range is somewhat in the ballpark of 0.01-0.2ppm. The wiki tells us it has a Standard enthalpy of formation of 52kJ/mol, so with some math we can at most get 1MJ/mol from this. Anyways, 50kg of dirt at a 0.1ppm (mind you, in real life this is overestimating real numbers by a factor of 100+ because it's only this much near the roots) gets you 5mg of ethylene. From that you can at most extract 277 Joules.

If you assume that the plant produces enough ethylene to fill the soil with that much power in 20 minutes (highly unlikely), then that gets you roughly 20kJ/day. That would get you to a quarter watt average power production as a theoretical max. In practice I'm probably overestimating by a factor of a thousand or more, and in real world situations the extraction efficiency is probably in the single digit percentage, the real number is probably in the microwatt range, and this is for 50kg of dirt (suitable for a small tree), not some little pot. For reference, my cell phone charger is 10W, if we assume that it's three hours for a full charge and I need it once per day, then my phone needs 110kJ/day, roughly 5 times more than my number that's probably a thousand+ times too high.

The biggest thing, is you're simply not going to extract enough energy from a plant to compete with solar sells, solar cells under the plants will produce more power for less money.


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