Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Preventing forest fires with tree power

23.09.2008
Sensor system runs on electricity generated by trees

MIT researchers and colleagues are working to find out whether energy from trees can power a network of sensors to prevent spreading forest fires.

What they learn also could raise the possibility of using trees as silent sentinels along the nation's borders to detect potential threats such as smuggled radioactive materials.

The U.S. Forest Service currently predicts and tracks fires with a variety of tools, including remote automated weather stations. But these stations are expensive and sparsely distributed. Additional sensors could save trees by providing better local climate data to be used in fire prediction models and earlier alerts. However, manually recharging or replacing batteries at often very hard-to-reach locations makes this impractical and costly.

The new sensor system seeks to avoid this problem by tapping into trees as a self-sustaining power supply. Each sensor is equipped with an off-the-shelf battery that can be slowly recharged using electricity generated by the tree. A single tree doesn't generate a lot of power, but over time the "trickle charge" adds up, "just like a dripping faucet can fill a bucket over time," said Shuguang Zhang, one of the researchers on the project and the associate director of MIT's Center for Biomedical Engineering (CBE).

The system produces enough electricity to allow the temperature and humidity sensors to wirelessly transmit signals four times a day, or immediately if there's a fire. Each signal hops from one sensor to another, until it reaches an existing weather station that beams the data by satellite to a forestry command center in Boise, Idaho.

Scientists have long known that trees can produce extremely small amounts of electricity. But no one knew exactly how the energy was produced or how to take advantage of the power.

In a recent issue of the Public Library of Science ONE, Zhang and MIT colleagues report the answer. "It's really a fairly simple phenomenon: An imbalance in pH between a tree and the soil it grows in," said Andreas Mershin, a postdoctoral associate at the CBE.¬ The first author of the paper is Christopher J. Love, an MIT senior in chemistry who has been working on the project since his freshman year.

To solve the puzzle of where the voltage comes from, the team had to test a number of theories - many of them exotic. That meant a slew of experiments that showed, among other things, that the electricity was not due to a simple electrochemical redox reaction (the type that powers the 'potato batteries' common in high school science labs, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemon_battery). The team also ruled out the source as due to coupling to underground power lines, radio waves or other electromagnetic interference.

Testing of the wireless sensor network, which is being developed by Voltree Power (http://voltreepower.com), is slated to begin in the spring on a 10-acre plot of land provided by the Forest Service.

According to Love, who with Mershin has a financial interest in Voltree, the bioenergy harvester battery charger module and sensors are ready. "We expect that we'll need to instrument four trees per acre," he said, noting that the system is designed for easy installation by unskilled workers.

"Right now we're finalizing exactly how the wireless sensor network will be configured to use the minimum amount of power," he concluded.

Elizabeth Thomson | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu
http://voltreepower.com
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemon_battery

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Dispersal of Fish Eggs by Water Birds – Just a Myth?
19.02.2018 | Universität Basel

nachricht Removing fossil fuel subsidies will not reduce CO2 emissions as much as hoped
08.02.2018 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

Im Focus: Interference as a new method for cooling quantum devices

Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters

Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Contacting the molecular world through graphene nanoribbons

19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

When Proteins Shake Hands

19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

Cells communicate in a dynamic code

19.02.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>