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A Rose Is Still a Rose, Even When It's a Supercapacitor

Scientists engineered a rose that stores and releases electrical energy.

Grennan Milliken

Thor Balkhed

Swedish scientists working on creating electric plants, have turned a rose into a capacitor, an electrical storage device similar to a battery. It's capable of holding the same amount of energy charge in its stem, petals, and leaves as supercapacitors used in cars.

This system could potentially be used in agriculture or horticulture— the electricity harvested from a plant could power devices that control that plant's fertilizer or water intake. How practical that would be, however, is still hard to tell at this stage of the research process.   

Scientists at the Laboratory of Organic Electronics at Linköping University in Sweden have been tinkering around with frankenstein roses for the last couple years, and recently made some big strides. They created a conductive polymer solution that the rose soaked up and ferried throughout its vessels with its own natural fluids. The conductive material was transported even into the tips of the flower's petals and leaves. The polymer solution, spread in strands throughout the plant, acts like a system of wires, creating a ready made, electrically conductive rose. The research was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The supercapacitors that we manufactured in the  structure of the plant can be charged hundreds of times without losing their performance," Eleni Stavrinidou, lead author of the study, told Motherboard in an email. The plant can, she said, power some of their small lab devices now.

The researchers used a rose because of its woody tissue. This helped with some logistical aspects of the experiment, but also, Stavrinidou noted that they would hope to try this in trees someday and "the vascular system of a rose resembles the ones of trees."

Why turn a plant into a device capable of storing energy? Scientists studying it believe there are practicable applications for electric plants, like creating autonomous energy systems that can optimize plant functions and growth. Capacitors store their potential energy in an electrical field, where batteries do so in chemical form.

"We can use the energy stored in the plant to power up low power devices that can deliver chemicals in the plant and control its growth," said Stavrinidou.

The research still has miles to go however, so it'll be some time before christmas tree farms have firs that grow themselves. In the meantime, the concept of  "electric plants" still sounds like a Radiohead album to me.