Most of us have never heard of about tree power, but it turns out that it’s there, hiding in the shadows, in small but measurable quantities. A group of researchers tested this by using their local trees to run an electronic circuit. Will forests someday replace windfarms?

Researcher Babak Parviz says, “As far as we know this is the first peer-reviewed paper of someone powering something entirely by sticking electrodes into a tree.”

An earlier study found that plants generate a voltage of up to 200 millivolts when one electrode is placed in a plant and the other in the surrounding soil.

Researcher Carlton Himes spent last summer exploring likely sites. Hooking nails to trees and connecting a voltmeter, he found that bigleaf maples generate a steady voltage of up to a few hundred millivolts, so his team built a device that could run on the available power.

Tree power is unlikely to replace solar power, but the system could provide a low-cost option for powering tree sensors that might be used as a kind of forest smoke detector, to detect environmental conditions that may lead to forest fires. Parviz says, “It’s not exactly established where these voltages come from. But there seems to be some signaling in trees, similar to what happens in the human body but with slower speed. When you go to the doctor, the first thing that they measure is your pulse. We don’t really have something similar for trees.”

We won’t be running on tree power at our Stargate Conference in October (besides, there aren’t many trees in the desert), but we can guarantee there will be some magic there!

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