Wednesday, January 11, 2006

What's The Voltage of a Tree? Evergreens as Evereadies

Trees are amazing, natural solar-powered structures. Like batteries, they consume chemicals and can store energy. Trees convert solar radiation (free) into new, often larger and higher solar detectors. Amazingly, water enters the roots through thin membranes at their tips. The tree's vascular system draws the water up through the trunk and distributes it to the leaves, often 3-10 stories above the ground. A single mature Live oak can consume up to 300 gallons of water each day. That is some pretty heavy lifting. In addition, trees soak up carbon dioxide from the air, producing life-giving oxygen. One medium-sized tree generates about the same amount of oxygen as each of us needs to breathe.

Part of the energy crisis solution: Trees?
In North America the average solar power is about 9 kilo-Watt-hours per square meter (about a squared yard) per day.

Tests have generated 0.8 volts to 1.2 volts by driving an aluminum roofing nail half an inch into a tree attached to a copper water pipe driven 7 inches into the ground. But the electricity is fairly useless because it’s unstable and fluctuates. (M.E. note: don't try this at home, because there are often higher AC voltages present from normal, utility power distribution).

MagCap Engineering LLC wants to patent a process that converts the natural energy of a tree to usable direct-current electricity, company President Chris Lagadinos said. He expects to find investors to help pay for the research needed to figure a way to increase the tree power from less than 2 volts to 12 volts sometime this year, creating an alternative to fossil fuels.

“It’s a renewable source and it’s an unlimited source,” he said. “It’s virtually untapped. The issue is clean energy and it’s readily available. There are trees everywhere.”

Are there skeptics? Of course, but haven;t there always been?

Jim Manwell, director of the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Renewable Energy Resource Laboratory, questioned the potential of MagCap’s plans. “I’m wildly skeptical,” he said. “I would need to see proof before I believed it. It strikes me as pretty questionable for a number of reasons... There’s a fundamental law of physics,” he said. “The energy has to come from somewhere.” (M.E. clue: the sun).


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