Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 October 2019

London Zoo prepares for first ever plant selfie

Pete the plant will use new technology to take photos of his growth

Pete the plant is getting ready for his close-up. Courtesy ZSL
Pete the plant is getting ready for his close-up. Courtesy ZSL

A plant called Pete is preparing to take the world's first plant-powered selfie at ZSL London Zoo.

Scientists at the zoo are conducting a trial that will see microbial fuel cells power a plant to take its own picture.

The experiment could provide a way to power camera traps and sensors in the wild, allowing conservationists to monitor habitats remotely.

The plant in question is a maidenhair fern with delicate leaves and shiny stalks.

The trial is the result of a competition run by London Zoo, Cambridge University and the Arribada Initiative to design a fuel cell that could be powered by plants. The winning team, from green energy firm Plant E in the Netherlands, designed fuel cells that harness the energy of naturally occurring bacteria in soil to generate enough electricity to power key conservation equipment.

Scientists are hoping to use plants to fuel camera traps in future. Courtesy ZSL
Scientists are hoping to use plants to fuel camera traps in future. Courtesy ZSL

Scientists are hoping the technology will build up enough power to snap photos of Pete the plant as it grows.

“As plants grow, they naturally deposit biomatter into the soil they’re planted in, which bacteria in the soil feeds on – this creates energy that can be harnessed by fuel cells and used to power a wide range of conservation tools," said ZSL’s Conservation Technology Specialist Al Davies.

“Traditional power sources have limits: batteries must be replaced, which takes time and comes at a cost, while solar panels only work if you have sufficient sunlight.

“But many plants survive in the shade and naturally move into position to maximise the potential of absorbing sunlight – meaning the potential for plant-powered energy is practically limitless.”

The new tech will work around the clock and has the potential to monitor inhospitable and remote rainforest locations to record key data such as temperature, humidity, plant growth – all of which are crucial to the understanding of threats such as climate change and habitat loss.

Visitors can see the trial in progress in the Zoo's Rainforest Life exhibit. "Since it’s been suggested that talking to plants helps them grow, we’d love people to visit and help cheer on our plucky plant, Pete," said Mr Davies.

Updated: June 21, 2019 10:09 PM

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