Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Preventing Forest Fires With Tree Power
ScienceDaily (Sep. 23, 2008) — MIT researchers and colleagues are working to find out whether energy from trees can power a network of sensors to prevent spreading forest fires.
What they learn also could raise the possibility of using trees as silent sentinels along the nation's borders to detect potential threats such as smuggled radioactive materials.
The U.S. Forest Service currently predicts and tracks fires with a variety of tools, including remote automated weather stations. But these stations are expensive and sparsely distributed. Additional sensors could save trees by providing better local climate data to be used in fire prediction models and earlier alerts. However, manually recharging or replacing batteries at often very hard-to-reach locations makes this impractical and costly.
The new sensor system seeks to avoid this problem by tapping into trees as a self-sustaining power supply. Each sensor is equipped with an off-the-shelf battery that can be slowly recharged using electricity generated by the tree. A single tree doesn't generate a lot of power, but over time the "trickle charge" adds up, "just like a dripping faucet can fill a bucket over time," said Shuguang Zhang, one of the researchers on the project and the associate director of MIT's Center for Biomedical Engineering (CBE).
The painting is by Nancy Merkle