Will artificial trees be the next power plants?
Wind power is an important source of renewable energy, but some people are concerned that conventional wind turbines are too loud and too hazardous for birds and bats. We wanted to create a new kind of wind energy harvesting machine based on the jiggling motion of cottonwood tree leaves in the wind, which would be quieter and safer for wildlife.
After building and testing artificial cottonwood leaves that moved and created electricity in the wind, we found that they didn’t produce enough energy to feasibly use for electricity production. We also tried building a cattail-like device to generate electricity when it swayed in the wind, but it also didn’t produce enough energy to make it reasonable to use.
Though our research showed that artificial plants’ jiggling or swaying isn’t likely to be a cost-effective way to produce electricity, we think it could be fruitful to look into other plant-inspired designs for harvesting wind energy. We also are testing a previously unexploited biological material known to convert mechanical to electrical energy far more effectively than the ones used today.