Dutch Green Startup Turns Plants Into Power Plants

Product designer Ermi van Oers creates lamps that are literally powered by plants. The City of Rotterdam asked her to translate her technology into an off-the-grid lighting plan for a public park.

Inspired by bio design, which integrates natural processes into the design of everyday items, Van Oers aims to bridge the gaps between nature, technology and creativity. During her studies at Rotterdam’s Willem de Kooning Academy, she learnt about microbial fuel cell technology — or how the breaking down of organic waste generates energy which can be used for new purposes. The technology was hardly being put to practice in an appealing way. “The power of imagination and experience is often overlooked in the field of research. So I decided to bring the worlds of science and design together and accessible to a larger audience.” Van Oers developed the first Living Light, a small floating lamp powered by polluted water and micro-organisms.

The first Living Light runs on micro-organisms in polluted water

The Living Light that’s powered by plants

In the next phase of the project, she teamed up with the company Plant-e to create a Living Light that harvests its energy through the photosynthetic process of plants. The light can be activated by human touch, making people part of the energy cycle and experience of generating electricity. “The Living Light is really about the cooperation between nature and man,” explains Van Oers. “If you take more care of your plant, it will give you more energy and light. It has a magical feel to it.”

The Living Light is part of a larger philosophy. “It’s about changing perspectives on things like pollution and plants. I want to show how you can clean polluted water and at the same time generate energy. And I want to change the meaning of plants. People look at them as decorative items, but they can actually generate electricity.” She thinks that plants and micro-organisms will be the power plants of the future. “Rotterdam is currently planning to build floating homes in former harbor districts,” she continues. “Imagine they could be self-sufficient by generating energy from the water!”

Van Oers is currently developing lighting in a public park in Rotterdam that runs on plants

Although Van Oers still sees these types of ideas as future fantasies, she and her team are working on the design of a public park in Rotterdam in which plant-based lighting technology will be a central element. That’s right, traditional lighting sources like lamp posts will be absent. The park will have a magical interactive experience factor similar to the Living Light, with lights turning on as you walk through it. Still in development in collaboration with the urban authorities, the park is planned to be realized in 2018.

To turn her ideas into reality, Van Oers participated in Let it Grow, an incubation programme that provides 10.000 EUR in funding (without taking equity), guidance and expertise for young companies that are working with flowers and plants in new ways, in order to improve the lives of people living in cities. Van Oers: “With Let it Grow’s support, we could make huge steps in professionalizing our project and create a viable business model.” Let it Grow is accepting new applicants for their 2017-2018 Incubation Programme until September 10th. Teams can apply here.

Also, the plant-powered Living Light is in the final stage of development and will hopefully be in production by the end of the year. Pre-orders are accepted!

The call for Let it Grow’s incubation program is officially open! Apply for a chance to get €10,000 funding, 5 months training, dedicated mentorship and much more. Submit before 10 September 2017: letitgrow.org/apply