First Time: Moss Powers an FM Radio

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Soft, green, innocuous moss — the stuff of fantasy novels — has gone high-tech. A British biochemist and a product designer teamed up to construct an FM radio powered by biological solar panels that incorporate the plant.

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University of Cambridge biochemist Bombelli collaborated with London-based product designer Fabienne Felder to develop Moss FM, what they’re calling the world’s first plant-powered radio. They say it’s also the first functional moss-powered object that requires more electricity than a liquid-crystal display.

“Moss FM is a biological solar panel,” Bombelli recently told BBC Radio 4. “In the same way that the solar panels harnesses the energy of light and delivers electrical power, Moss FM it does it by using biological material.”

The radio is set up like a science experiment, and it seems about as complex. A frame holds 10 moss pots that are connected to form a “photo microbial fuel cell.” The biochemical process in the fuel cell is still experimental, the duo points out on Felder’s site, but essentially it harnesses the electrons and protons produced by photosynthesizing plants, and turns them into an electrical current.

The first time the radio worked it played for a minute and 20 seconds, according to this Moss FM video. Currently the moss pots produce a potential of more than 4.5 volts. While they chose moss because it’s beautiful and undervalued, Bombelli told the BBC that other plants and algae could be used.

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The power from plants is understandably rather low, but Bombelli and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge are working on changing that. If they succeed, maybe we’ll all need to become master gardeners to keep our electronic devices going.

Credit: Fabienne Felder and Paolo Bombelli