Scientists at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland have developed a prototype of a decorative tree that harvests energy from its surroundings, stores it, and turns it into electricity to power small devices such as LED lights and mobile phones. The trees can be placed indoors or outdoors for home energy use.
The leaves are flexible, organic photovoltaic cells created using a printing process that VTT developed, making large scale production a reality. Each leaf contains wiring that conducts the energy into its own separate power converter, which then feeds the electricity to devices that can be plugged into it. The base of the tree is 3D printed biocomposite materials. The trunk might not be the most glamorous thing we’ve ever seen, but the leaves themselves are beautiful and would make an elegant (and very practical) addition to a home or office.
One of the most unique features of these printed leaves is that they are a harvesting system that can obtain energy from more than one source. In addition to converting light into energy like traditional solar cells, they can convert wind vibrations and temperature fluctuations into usable energy. This is made possible by the multi-power converter embedded into the leaves, and it means that these trees can provide power just about wherever they are placed. That’s pretty amazing!
Since these trees can be mass replicated via widely used techniques, it’s easy to imagine bigger trees or even a small forest of them for larger energy applications, which is just what the company envisions for the future. These production methods will also, hopefully, make the tree accessible and affordable for consumers.
Can you imagine a tree that creates electricity from sunshine, vibrations, and temperature differentials? Today it can power your mobile. But imagine the impact a whole forest could have tomorrow.