Plant-based technology could lead to self-powered smartphones

By Jonathan Crowl

Solar power is widely considered an attractive clean energy source and a significant investment opportunity. The biggest challenge is finding effective methods for storing that electricity when sunlight isn’t available. That’s a problem that may soon disappear, though, due to a new breakthrough by researchers in Australia. Scientists have developed a plant-based energy solution using the blueprint of a fern plant.

The result is a 3,000 percent increase in electrode storage capacity and a big enough leap forward in energy storage technology that experts see it as a key step toward a future in which smartphones, computers, cars and other major electronics are all self-powered, according to The Next Web.

How does it work, exactly? It all has to do with supercaps, which are used to store solar energy and have many benefits over conventional batteries. The main drawback is that supercaps are very limited in their storage capacities, which makes it hard to store enough energy to power vehicles, appliances and gadgets around the clock.

Researchers found a way to improve these supercaps by building a more efficient electrode for energy storage. Their inspiration was the western swordfern plant, which features a densely packed network of veins that utilize a repeating pattern known as a fractal.

Scientists implemented these fractal shapes into their own electrode, and the results have been astounding, with energy storage now improved at a nano level. This means solar energy storage could one day accommodate the large amounts necessary to power an entire home’s devices for a full day or more. Because the electrode is still in its infancy, it could be a few years before this technology hits the market.

In the meantime, its promise should encourage investments into solar energy, particularly after its plant-based inspiration proved to make such a difference in storage capacity. This new insight could open the door to thin film technology being implemented as an upgraded form of solar paneling.