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Scientists engineer a rose that can store and releases electrical energy

A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but could it store and release electrical energy? And if it could, what about other plants? Finding new ways to store large amounts of energy is a growing field of research. And if you’re like us, you support finding new alternatives to batteries every time your phone dies on you before you get home.

That’s a conundrum William Shakespeare never had to grapple with, but is being currently explored by scientists at the Laboratory of Organic Electronics at Sweden’s Linköping University. In a newly published research paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, investigators describe their work to develop a method of turning roses into supercapacitors (an alternative to batteries), capable of holding energy in their stems and then releasing it. This is achieved by treating the rose with a conductive polymer solution that is soaked up like water.

“When the material goes into the vascular system of the plant, into the channels where the water is usually transported, it initiates a chemical reaction,” Eleni Stavrinidou, lead author of the study, told Digital Trends. “This material initiates a reaction in the plant’s physical-chemical environment. This allows the formation of conducting wires along the vascular tissue of the plant. We’re able to use this to reach every part of the plant, even the petals and the leaves.”

Thor Balkhed, Linköping University
Thor Balkhed, Linköping University

According to Stavrinidou, the conductive solution doesn’t have an adverse affect on the flowers in question.

“For our experiment we used rose stems that had already been detached from the main plant,” she continued. “This was done for practical reasons. However, what we saw was that the rose with our material and the control rose that was in a normal vase of water behaved in the same way. We’ve explored many materials in this work, some of which have been shown to be very toxic to plants, but the material we’re using here doesn’t seem to affect the plant — although we’ve not yet performed a very detailed biological study to look into this.”

So why on Earth would you want to make a bunch of roses that can conduct electricity, short of for a particularly obscure scientific whodunnit plot?

For the potential of being able to later harvest energy that a plant has stored from photosynthesis, Stavrinidou said. While the work is still at the “proof of concept” stage, and there’s still more to be done on improving conductivity and energy storage abilities, this opens up some exciting new possibilities.

“If we were also able to store this energy in the plant, this could have the makings of an alternative energy system,” Stavrinidou concluded.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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