US researchers are investigating whether trees produce enough energy to power a network of fire detection sensors.
A team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is looking to see if it is possible to harness the extremely small electrical current generated by trees could be used to recharge sensors’ batteries.
The researchers said that the US Forest Service currently predicted and tracked the path of fires by using a variety of resources.
One key tool used by the Forest Service was remote automated weather stations, but these were expensive and sparsely distributed.
Additional sensors could be installed to improve coverage, they added, but the batteries needed to be recharged or replaced manually.
The team hopes their design will be able to trickle charge the remote sensors’ off-the-shelf batteries, and provide enough electricity to power temperature and humidity sensors.
The scientists suggested that the system would be able to harness enough tree power to allow the sensors to transmit data four times a day, or immediately if there was a fire.
They explained that the signal would “hop” from one sensor to the next until the information reached an existing weather station, which would then beam the data via satellite to a forestry command centre in Idaho.
The electrical current is produced by an imbalance in pH between a tree and the surrounding soil.
The sensor network, which is being developed by Voltree Power, is set to be tested on a 10-acre (four-hectare) plot owned by the Forest Service in Spring 2009.
Source: MIT press release