Three Dubai teenagers aim to one day power a housing complex with electricity generated by plants.
Nada Nafisa, Aya Al Zayed and Fatimah Ghazi, all 16, are grade 10 pupils at Gems Al Khaleej International School. They have created the Eco-current energy production unit that harvests “leftover” electrons to harness electricity from plants.
Eco-current uses the run-off energy produced by microbial fuel cells to power small devices and lights, while — as a sustainable energy source — also helping the environment.
The team showcased Eco-current at Expo 2020 Dubai in the Siemens building, presenting their marketing research plan and pitching to investors.
Ms Nafisa said: “We want this to be the new hydro power, the new solar power. We want people to rely on plants as much as they do the on sun and on water. Plants are as beneficial.
“There's so much we can do with plants.
“I think the largest we can aim for now is maybe power an entire home complex. That would be the dream come true to see our invention work and be applied on such a great scale.”
Ms Nafisa and her friends came up with the idea for Eco-current for a school competition.
They decided to work on sustainability in a creative way.
“We said, 'why have we not thought of using plants to produce energy?' We've used wind to produce energy and we have used water. Plants seemed like the logical next step,” Ms Nafisa said.
The pupils found research from the Netherlands about generating energy from plants using a run of electrons.
Eco-current harvests the free electrons that are produced during photosynthesis and during the breakdown process of organic material by bacteria.
Free electrons can be collected and transmitted through wires, where electrons are attracted to the anode wire. With the electron flow, they generate electricity.
This approach towards green energy does not harm the plant.
For now, the pupils know that the technology can be used to power phones or smaller devices, using electricity generated from moss.
With bigger units, and more research on the most suitable types of plants, they are confident they can be used to power larger machines — such as washing machines and coffee machines.
Ms Nafisa said the team will broaden their testing at school to root vegetables and hope staff there see potential in the idea and help launch it on to the market.
“We want to research heavily to be able to produce the best product to then sell it into the market properly,” she said.
The pupils prepared a presentation and a 3D model that they displayed at the Siemens building.
“I was really excited to go to the Expo and present something so important But at the same time, it was nerve-racking to go up there and present to investors and people who were actually interested in the product,” Ms Nafisa said.
Fellow team member Ms Al Zayed said: “Our school conducts a Steam [science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics] Exhibition Day annually, where we have to showcase our proposed solution to different problems.
“We chose the clean energy category and we started researching about new technologies that can be used for generating green energy.
“We found out that we can produce energy from the biomass in plants while they are under their growth process which is photosynthesis. A group of scientists that started this idea in the Netherlands inspired us and we thought of improving it.”
Third team member Fatimah Ghazi said they were looking for investors who could help them achieve accurate results. This would focus on embedding carbon nanotubes to plants’ chlorophyll structure to optimise the collection of the electrons.
“We definitely hope that we will be able to finalise our work and build the final prototype that will work efficiently and produce enough amount of energy with an affordable cost.
“At this point, we will be more than happy to take it to the market and add to Dubai’s efforts towards green energy production,” said Ms Al Ghazi.
Ruba Tarabay, Steam co-ordinator and Middle School science lead at Al Khaleej International School, said: “I was so happy and excited to see that they were able to showcase their project at Expo.
“They were able to pitch their project there and the judges were really impressed with this idea of generating clean energy for our future.”