This is what I read beforehand and then I reached the company page.

They state that plants produce energy. This happens when releasing stuff from the photosynthesis process, which is consumed by bacteria among their roots, and that process releases a tiny amount -yet seizable- energy.

I'd like to know if anything, all, or nothing is true regarding their assertion (I confess I'd like that fact to be true) and that company.

Please help me tagging this question appropriately, since I'm asking both for the company and the underlying scientific statement

  • Is it possible for you to link more specific page? I haven't been able to find the information you've listed about "bacteria among their roots" being part of the process. Oct 1, 2018 at 18:56
  • @Giter: By "serious" I mean: The premise is not a scam Oct 1, 2018 at 20:25
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    @KamilDrakari have this link: newatlas.com/plant-microbial-fuel-cell/25163 Oct 1, 2018 at 20:27
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    @LuisMasuelli that link is very useful, and contains a much clearer set of claims. I think it's a good idea to use that as your main source, and have the Plant-e site as a secondary reference. Oct 1, 2018 at 20:59
  • We can't answer whether a company is a scam - that is a question of motivations. Please quote an explicit claim, because I don't think they are saying what you say they are saying.
    – Oddthinking
    Oct 3, 2018 at 0:37

1 Answer 1


By "serious" I mean: The premise is not a scam

It doesn't seem to be a scam, in that it is supported by Wageningen University & Research -- one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the Netherlands, and possibly the most prestigious agronomy institute in the world.

Having said that, a number of the claims in the press release that you linked are exaggerated or excessively optimistic. Notably, this research was originally academically published in 2007, then publicised in 2012 with the claim that there would be a product on the market within a year, with "larger-scale electricity production in marshlands around the world following after 2015." That hasn't happened. As of October 2018, their only products are barely more than toys, producing tiny amounts of power; just enough to drive decorative lamps. (Probably a few milliwatts.) Further, they can only operate when carefully tended: their FAQ still says:

Plant-e is currently developing a system that can be applied in existing, wet nature areas such as ...

So some eleven years after developing the process, and six years after claiming a product release was imminent, they do not yet have a system that works in a natural environment.

It works by taking advantage of the up to 70 percent of organic material produced via photosynthesis that can’t be used by the plant and is excreted through the roots.

This paragraph is troubling, although it may not be their fault -- academic press releases often get garbled by publicists. The only organic material produced from (plant based) photosynthesis is sugar; all other processes either build up from the sugars (to make complex carbohydrates such as cellulose) or break them down (to drive other, endothermic biochemical processes.) What fraction of the sugar produced in a plant can it use? All of it; and any plant that didn't scrimp every last benefit from it would be very poorly adapted.

It is well known that the efficiency of photosynthesis is far below the theoretical optimum. Under ideal conditions is can be as high as 8%, but 4% is more typical, and in adverse conditions it can be well under 1%. However, that refers to the efficiency with which the available light energy is converted to chemical energy (in the form of sugar.) What is being said here is that after ~4% of the available light energy has been stored as sugar 70% of that hard-won sugar then leaks out through the roots and is lost. Umm, no. That doesn't happen. Not unless the plant is badly diseased, anyway.

I don't understand what they were trying to say here, and can't find a source for this 70% loss figure; but as written, it is nonsense.

As naturally occurring bacteria around the roots break down this organic residue, electrons are released as a waste product.

OK, apart from describing electrons as a waste product which is more garbling, this part is fine. Soil bacteria do indeed break down organic materials released by other lifeforms, including both plant and animal wastes, and their remains after death. And just as in higher organisms, some of these catabolic processes are electrochemical in nature, and some of this electrical energy can be diverted.

The problem is that the available power output is tiny. Which is consistent with Plant-e's reported outputs, which are about 600 times lower than a conventional solar panel.

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    You state that 'Sugar is the only organic compound produced by photosynthesis' but there are many compounds produced before sugar, ie en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Oct 6, 2018 at 6:23
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    Yes, there are intermediates during the cycles, but they are not /products/ of the cycle -- they are alternately consumed and regenerated as the sugars are made. (Glyceraldehyde is a sugar, by the way-- although it may not look like it at first glance. In fact it is one of the simplest possible sugars.)
    – Securiger
    Oct 6, 2018 at 10:36

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