Iowa State University Designs Electricity Generator that Mimics Trees

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April 6, 2017 | Originally published by Date Line: April 6 on

AMES, Iowa – Money doesn’t grow on trees, but electricity might someday.

 Iowa State University scientists have built a device that mimics the branches and leaves of a cottonwood tree and generates electricity when its artificial leaves sway in the wind.

 Michael McCloskey, an associate professor of genetics, development and cell biology who led the design of the device, said the concept won’t replace wind turbines, but the technology could spawn a niche market for small and visually unobtrusive machines that turn wind into electricity.

“The possible advantages here are aesthetics and its smaller scale, which may allow off-grid energy harvesting,” McCloskey said recently in his ISU laboratory. “We set out to answer the question of whether you can get useful amounts of electrical power out of something that looks like a plant. The answer is ‘possibly,’ but the idea will require further development.”

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