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Trees Could Power Wildfire Sensors

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Trees Could Power Wildfire Sensors
by Steven Volynets

The origins of forest fires, which destroy millions of trees and force evacuations, are rarely traced. Ironically, trees themselves continuously fuel the flames as they spread. But researchers at MIT believe that they can also be our eyes and ears in preventing deforestation and the kind of wildfires that recently ravaged Southern California.

The U.S. Forest Service already uses tree-mounted sensors to detect potential threats. However, these stations are too costly and sporadic to make a real impact.

Instead, scientists at MIT's Center for Biomedical Engineering (CBE) propose tapping trees as self-sustaining forest sentries.

It turns out that trees can produce extremely small amounts of electricity which overtime can amount to enough voltage to power off-the-shelf rechargeable batteries. These batteries would in turn supply electricity to temperature and humidity sensors capable of wirelessly transmitting data at least 4 times a day, or during emergencies as needed. Each signal hops from one sensor to another, until it reaches an existing weather station that beams the data by satellite to a forestry command center in Boise, Idaho.

Apparently, this is not a far stretch in terms of basic science. Innate voltage is quite common in plant life, says Andreas Mershin, a postdoctoral associate at the CBE. "It's really a fairly simple phenomenon: An imbalance in pH between a tree and the soil it grows in," he explains. With that preparations for the initial wireless sensor network are already underway at Voltree Power. Trials are slated to begin in the spring on a 10-acre plot of land provided by the Forest Service.

Learn about MIT's other alternative energy research here or check out the MIT Energy Initiative.

Originally posted on GoodCleanTech.,2817,2331082,00.asp

Interesting idea, seems like this could save alot of firefighter lives.
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