USDA Forest Service Tests Voltree Power’s Bio-Energy Harvester

October 31, 2009

2 Min Read
USDA Forest Service Tests Voltree Power’s Bio-Energy Harvester

In February 2009, I posted “Voltree Power Harvests Electricity from Trees without Combustion,” describing how Canton, MA based Voltree Power was commercializing a patented technology from MIT to extract energy from trees. Using the pH difference between trees and the soil, a miniscule amount of electricity is produced, which Voltree captures to power wireless mesh networks within forests for agricultural monitoring and early detection of forest fires.

While I liked the novelty of this idea, to be honest, I thought any attempt to actually commercialize wireless sensors running on “tree juice” would likely not succeed. Who would buy such a crazy idea? Well, how about the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forrest Service

In a recent press release, “Voltree Power Announces First Contract with USDA Forest Service,” the company highlights a major success in deploying their tree-powered mesh network for ambient environmental monitoring. This calm news release is accompanied by a vigorous, ecstatic, and well-deserved rant on the company’s home page about how well their technology performed during this initial trial. Frankly, I would be pretty excited, too, if I managed to convince the Feds to invest in an overgrown potato clock that did a better job than Smokey at preventing forest fires.

This initial success of Voltree’s technology demonstrates one viable solution to the long-standing challenge of powering wireless sensors without batteries. As described in my post, “The Walls are Crawling with Energy,” deploy-and-forget wireless networks are being held up by lack of wireless solutions to deliver power to the sensor nodes. These networks could provide data for applications as diverse as human comfort monitoring for building energy reduction to radiation detection for anti-terrorism operations. So, Voltree’s initial success is a laudable step toward data-rich environments enabled by wireless networks that harvest power from their surroundings.

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