Tree-Huggers Getting Juiced

Getting electrical power from trees.

Since the dawn of the environmentalist movement in the 1970s, fervent adorers of all things green have been symbolized by one specific action and phrase: "tree-hugging."  Sometimes this is literal, as when anti-logging protesters chain themselves to trees so lumberjacks can't cut them down; other times, it's only figurative, as when environmentalists force river water to be reserved for Nature while letting farms turn to dust and farmers turn to unemployment and welfare.

For all this time, there was never a good reason for hugging a tree.  Who wants to do that?  They're itchy, scratchy, and dirty.  Hug a kitten if you must.

Comes now a genuine reason to hug a tree, courtesy of the benefits of modern science and your tax dollars.

UW engineers Babak Parviz and Brian Otis have invented an electrical device that can be plugged directly into any tree for power. "As far as we know this is the first peer-reviewed paper of someone powering something entirely by sticking electrodes into a tree," said Parviz.  The research was based upon a breakthrough study last year out of MIT, when scientists 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.  [emphasis added]

What could be better?  It's long been noted that the most vehemently enthusiastic environmentalists tend also to be the most fervent early-adopters of the highest of high tech.  Not for them the sweet music of the birds in the sky; no, while they may be looking at the joys of creation, they're listening to the brain-pulping pounding emanating from their iPods.  The only twittering for them is that on their cellphone: "jst tripped on rock!!! omg!!!"

Unfortunately, batteries only last so long, limiting the depth of immersion in wilderness to just about the radius of the nearest cell-tower coverage.  But no more!

Thanks to the hard work of Messrs. Parviz and Otis, these worshipers of Gaia need not be separated from their toys even during the longest-running arboreal protest: simply plug your consumer electronic devices directly into the tree you're hugging, and you're all set.  Alas, the innovation comes too late to help the unfortunate Berkeley die-hards who resided in the branches of a park's trees for 21 months trying to prevent their removal in favor of a new athletic facility; the last four just threw in the towel and, we hope, hit the showers.

All is not lost, though: another protest awaits, as a comment posted to the science article makes clear:

Not sure this is real 'power' from a tree... Is this really 'electrical power' or is it a chemical reaction between the electrodes and the sap of the tree? If it is just a chemical reaction, it is only temporary and may poison the tree. If it is real 'power' what is the effect on the tree? I am sure it cannot provide power without damage to itself[emphasis added]

To the barricades!  Defend those trees from vampiric greens seeking juice for their electronics!  If you're not 100% green - and entirely free of modern technology - you're not green at all.

Kermit Frosch is a guest writer for  Read other articles by Kermit Frosch or other articles on Environment.
Reader Comments
Yeah, but this hurts the trees doesn't it? They said stick the electrodes INTO the tree. Those poor trees. No, this could never work. We can't help nature by harming it.
September 17, 2009 8:45 AM

Presuming there is SUN where these trees grow the problem is already solved.

This is just free money (grants) chasing stupid, unneeded pockets. millivolts -- OMG
September 17, 2009 11:16 AM
So how many acres of forest would we need to replace one coal powered power plant?
September 20, 2009 2:38 PM
it would be a lot easier to take this seriously if the author's alias didn't translate to 'Kermit the Frog'
September 22, 2009 1:32 AM
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