Tune in to Moss FM: Swiss designer uses the prolific plant to power a radio
Susie Mesure writes interviews, news and features for the Independent on Sunday, Independent and i, and has done for the last ten years or so give or take two lengthy maternity leaves. She is interested in just about any topic, especially anything Scandinavian, food, or consumer-orientated, and used to be the Independent’s Retail Correspondent
Sunday 09 March 2014
Stand by for the ultimate gardening programme. A Swiss designer has teamed up with scientists at the University of Cambridge to use one of Britain's most prolific plants – moss – to power a radio. The device, nicknamed Moss FM, effectively turns moss into biological solar panels by tapping into the surplus electrons that moss creates during photosynthesis.
It's still early days: the radio only runs for a few minutes at a time. But designer Fabienne Felder hopes this is just the start of a journey, comparing it to the beginning phases of solar energy research.
"Extremely low-powered LCD screens had previously been powered by plants. I wanted to power something bigger, but I couldn't choose anything extreme, like a computer. I settled for a radio. Also because instead of the usual visual effect, you would actually get an aural effect, which I thought went nicely with plants," she said.
Felder admits that to get your morning Radio 4 fix would take about 10sq m of moss. But if you consider that, so far, the scientists – Paolo Bombelli, a biochemist, and Ross Denni, a plant expert – have only harnessed about 0.1 per cent of the energy created by moss, then there is room for progress.
This isn't the first time that moss has had a starring role beyond the cracks in the pavement or the forest floor: it was used to dress wounds during the First World War.
The team wanted to create an electricity-generating mosscoating on, for example, an aircraft cabin, but budgets forced it to refine the vision. Ms Felder is on a mission to promote moss: "People scrape it off their roofs, thinking it's some kind of weed. But mosses actually preserve the surface they grow on. They also work as insulators and muffle noise. Throughout history they have been used for anything from medicine and preservation, due to their anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, to stuffing furniture, building, or even pottery. In Japan, they are revered as a symbol for long life."
There are more than 20,000 species of moss in Britain but Ms Felder said the team was anxious that do-it-yourself enthusiasts didn't start digging. "We certainly don't want people to go out now and destroy ecosystems by collecting a lot of moss from the woods," she said.
She is part of a nascent movement called biophilic design, which takes inspiration from the living world, "drawing principles and processes from nature, in a responsible way".
Next could be floating algae farms acting as generators. "Maybe certain types of farmland could double up as generators, such as rice paddies," Ms Felder said. "The technology could have a bigger impact in countries where power consumption isn't so high yet." But first the team needs funds to "build something big, and to learn by trial and error".
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Ed Miliband less influential than One Direction's Louis Tomlinson in official Doncaster power list
- 3 Japanese island overrun with cats after population explodes
- 4 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
California teacher appears to have hanged herself in her classroom
The City of the Monkey God: Archaeologists claim to have found city lost for 1,000 years in remote Honduran jungle
Japanese island overrun with cats after population explodes
Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
Bubonic plague-carrying fleas found on New York City rats
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
£40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a critical role within the secur...
£20000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company is an established, ...
£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Exciting new position available at an independ...