What is the only thing better than real trees? Fake trees!

Solar Botanic is a green energy company; they make fake trees that generate electricity. I can’t quite decide if this is a brilliant example of biomimicry-in-action, or just a bizarre attempt to “improve” upon a natural system – the tree – that already works pretty darn well. Do you ever wonder if there are certain things that don’t really need to be improved? Regardless, Solar Botanic is, at the very least, an interesting idea.

How does it work?

Solar Botanic’s trees take their energy-generating inspiration from – you guessed it – real trees. They are outfitted with photovoltaic leaves that have the capacity to convert light into another form of energy, in this case, usable electricity. However, the technology doesn’t stop there, the photovoltaic “Nanoleaves” are connected to the tree branches with piezo-electric elements. Basically, this means that the Nanoleaves are able to generate additional electricity as they sway back and forth in the wind. Thus, they are able to generate electricity via two modes instead of just one .

Cool, right?

There is no denying that Solar Botanic is an interesting example of biomimicry – finding inspiration for innovation in nature. Yet, it also encourages some questions similar to those that I addressed in previous posts . For example, Solar Botanic seems to argue that as much as we might have to learn from nature, with new technology we can, well, do a little better.

In addition to drawing on the idea of photosynthesis , Solar Botanic also takes advantage of the aesthetics of trees . For example, the “Nanoleaves” absorb not only light from the visible spectrum, but also infrared and UV radiation; they are designed to reflect only a “small part of the sunlight that strikes them, mostly the green light,” meaning that they will appear green. The reason for this is not efficiency or energy production, but simply so that they will look more like real leaves. A quote from the website reads: “With the progress in nanotechnology, the photovoltaic, thermovoltaic and piezoelectric materials are becoming more efficient and combined in one system it will give our products more efficiency and we believe that soon, SolarBotanic will be a mainstream green energy provider, more reliable/cheaper and above all better looking.”

Solar Botanic definitely has an intriguing idea, but there is still a lot of information that is not provided on the website. There is no price offered, for example, nor a picture of a prototype tree. Therefore their claims that this is a “good monetary investment for private homes” and an “aesthetic natural design, in harmony with nature” are difficult to evaluate. Also, while Solar Botanic points out that “trees are a natural green machine which absorb carbon from the atmosphere and release it as oxygen” and also that “Solar Botanic trees are an effective way to … absorb the carbon you release into the atmosphere” it’s not quite clear how this absorption process works given that nanoleaves function, basically, like pv cells, absorbing light but not CO2.

Carbon absorption might be one area where nature still has the better solution.

Special thanks to JustMeans member Hank Wind for bringing Solar Botanic to my attention.