Earth Science

Power Generation from Leaves and Trees

The leaf that lies on the ground catches the ground frost at night. Unlike the ground around it, it remains chill when the sun comes up, and retains its frost. Unlike the ground, it doesn’t absorb it, so when it does melt in the warming air of late afternoon, it remains on the ripped undersurface of the leaf, rather than rolling off: separated by the leaf veins, the drops are too small to concentrate further to gain the mass to break through the weak forces of their surface tension. In other words, the water droplets you see below are expressions of the relationship between melting frost and the veins of a leaf. The leaf is a catalyst for moving this water across time, from morning into afternoon.

When the water finally does evaporate, the heat of the leaf, now warmer than the soil, sends it off into the air. This change of state cools the leaf again, which prepares it for the next night’s frost. Part of this work is done by the colour of the leaf, part of it by its texture, and part of it by the light-concentrating cells within it. It’s a bit like a flattened optic fibre cable. It has become commonplace to consider generating energy from the sun through transferring electrons within solar cells, collecting them, and connecting them to power grids traditionally run on electricity generated by magnets within turbines. That is a matter of fitting into existing technology. This simple leave shows other possibilities, and ones requiring no magnets or turbines (and no electron transfer) to do their work. The amount of energy being transferred here is small, but it could be scaled up to create cooling, heating, transportation, and other systems currently all powered by electricity. Cheap electricity has blinded us to these possibilities for too long, and given that cheap electricity is dependent upon industrial, capitalist and colonial power structures, with all of their human and environmental costs, isn’t it time to set the 19th and 20th centuries aside while we discover what more they have blinded us to in the same way? What if we found a way to use this grove of trees’ massive energies and got rid of the wires? (The wires impoverish us and bind us to power structures we often find distasteful, or worse.)

Only then would we be indigenous. Only then would we not be continually ethically compromised.

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