Space Newsfeed

Satellite Communications Technology

World premier: first plant-powered IoT sensor sends signal to space

(14 January 2020 - Lacuna Space) The first-ever plant-powered sensor has successfully transmitted to a satellite in space.

The pilot service, using plants as the energy source, has been developed by Plant-e and Lacuna Space. Because the sensor doesn't need batteries, due to the internal storage in the system, it'll reduce cost, maintenance requirements and environmental impact. As long as plants continue to grow, electricity will be produced.

Combining the innovative energy harvesting technology developed by Plant-e with the extremely power efficient devices from Lacuna Space, these devices are completely self-sustainable and operate independent from sunlight, day and night.

The Internet of Things (IoT) prototype device, developed by the two companies, uses the electricity generated by living plants to transmit LoRa messages about air humidity, soil moisture, temperature, cell voltage and electrode potential straight to Lacuna's satellite. Future applications can be found in critical data gathering from agricultural land, rice fields or other aquatic environments without the need for any external energy sources. The pilot service is supported by the ARTES programme from the European Space Agency (ESA).

world 1

Plant-e and Lacuna Space's demonstrator set-up ( coutesy: Lacuna Space)

world 2

Using plants to generate electricity (courtesy: Lacuna Space)

world 3

Lacuna Space's satellite (courtesy: Lacuna Space)

“At ESA we are very enthusiastic about this demonstration that combines biotechnology and space technology,” said Frank Zeppenfeldt who works on future satellite communication systems in ESA. “A number of new opportunities for satellite-based Internet-of-Things will be enabled by this.”

Plant-e, a start-up from Wageningen, the Netherlands, has developed a technology to harvest electrical energy from living plants and bacteria to generate carbon-negative electricity. The output generates enough energy to power LEDs and sensors in small-scale products.

“This collaboration shows how effective plant-electricity already is at its current state of development," said Plant-e CEO Marjolein Helder. "We hope this inspires others to consider plant-electricity as a serious option for powering sensors.”

Lacuna, based in the UK and the Netherlands, is launching a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite system that will provide a global Internet-of-Things service. The service allows collecting data from sensors even in remote areas with little or no connectivity. At the moment Lacuna Space is offering a pilot service with one satellite in orbit, and three more satellites are awaiting launch during the next few months.

"This opens up a new era in sustainable satellite communications," said Rob Spurrett, CEO and co-founder of Lacuna Space. "There are many regions in the world that are difficult to reach making regular maintenance expensive and the use of solar power impossible. Through this technology we can help people, communities and companies in those regions to improve their lives and businesses."
About Plant-e

Plant-e is a young company located in Wageningen, the Netherlands. It is Plant-e's mission to provide a high-tech, nature-based solution by generating electricity with living plants. The technology they develop is a true climate-technology that combines electricity production with methane reduction, carbon capture, stormwater retention and living plants in urban as well as remote areas. Plant-e’s current products are plantboxes that light LEDs or power sensors.

About Lacuna Space

Lacuna Space, located in the United Kingdom and The Netherlands, provides low-cost, easy and reliable global connections to sensors and mobile equipment. The company provides an ultra-low cost tracking and detection service for short data messaging based on LoRaWAN® that is ubiquitous. The service works everywhere, and all the time, enabling companies to gather data from remote sensors or tracking the status of moving assets.

About ESA’s ARTES programme

ESA’s programme of Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems, ARTES, transforms R&D investment into successful commercial products and services by offering varying degrees of support to projects with different levels of operational and commercial maturity.