An artifical tree to deliver solar and wind power

07.08.2017
Tech meets art in a life-like ‘energy tree’ (graphic: Solar Botanic/S&WE)
Tech meets art in a life-like ‘energy tree’ (Graphic: Solar Botanic / S&WE)

Engineers from the Brunel University London have developed the concept of an “energy tree”’ with e-leaves that suck up sunshine and quiver in the breeze to produce solar and wind power. The 16ft solar/wind tree can generate nearly three times the electricity an average family uses in a year.

The “energy tree” works as a giant solar panel and wind turbine, so the stronger the sun and the windier the day, the more power it produces. “We wanted the leaves to look like leaves, so we used a green plasma coated solar cell,” said Dr Zahir Dehouche at Brunel University London. “The idea is for people to see a leaf. It’s very attractive, an art installation almost that combines design and an energy system.” Inspired by nature, its e-leaves are a thin dye-sensitised photovoltaic film, cocooned in protective green layer flexible enough to shimmer in the breeze. The branches, twigs and leafstalks are laced with high-resistance piezoelectric ribbons that harvest kinetic energy as they move, so sunlight, raindrops and wind all create energy.

Electricity generated would go straight into homes through underground cables for self-consumption. Leftover power can be stored in batteries and sold to the national grid. Potential manufacturers could also fit the recyclable trunk with street lights, or pack it with batteries to charge electric cars or mobile phones. With brighter sunlight, the tree would be extra efficient for developing countries, where it could help with power cuts triggered by spikes in demand.

Design and engineering students developed the tree concept and tested the e-leaves prototype for London-based renewable energy start-up, Solar Botanic. The team sees the sturdy, organic structures enhancing high streets, sea fronts and business parks. “The tree is a sculpture that invites people to connect with renewable energy,” said design and industrial technology graduate, Elise Hounslow. “It shows green energy doesn’t have to be ugly or intrusive, it can be beautiful and make us feel positive about changing our ways for a brighter future.”

Solar Botanic aims to start building its first proper full-scale tree at the end of the year. A 16ft solar/wind tree is expected to generate at least 12,000 kWh a year. The tree would cost about £15,000 with the leaves themselves at less than £3 each.

Volker Buddensiek