Researchers from Cambridge University have come up with a brilliant way of powering up what is now dubbed "the greenest bus shelter." They used plants to generate electricity to illuminate the shed.

The structure makes use of solar panels and the so-called plant power to produce electricity, an innovation that marks the latest contribution to eco-friendly public transport. The researchers said that the combination of plants and solar power could provide the solution for developing countries that need affordable solutions for power generations.

Researchers from Cambridge University and eco-companies created the wooden hub, a brainchild of Paolo Bombelli and Christopher Howe from the university's department of biochemistry. Designed by Ely-based architects MCMM Architettura, the shelter uses six solar panels and eight green plants walls.

"The combination of horticulture with renewable energy production constitutes a powerful solution to food and resource shortages on an increasingly populated planet," said Joanna Slota-Newson from Polysolar, a Cambridge-based solar power company. "In this collaboration with Cambridge University, the public can experience the plants' healthy growth behind Polysolar panels."

To produce electricity, the leafy walls harvest electrons as naturally produced by-products of photosynthesis and metabolic activity. Along with the solar panels that cover some of the vegetation, the plant wall produces enough electric current so the shelter can light itself.

During photosynthesis, solar energy is used to convert carbon dioxide into compounds that allow plants to grow. Some of these compounds leach into the soil, where bacteria break them down, resulting in the release of electrons as part of their metabolism.

In earlier experiments, the same team behind this project was also able to produce a device that used moss for powering a radio.

Bombelli said that the long-term goal of the solar research is the development of a range of multipurpose buildings that are self-powered and sustainable for use all over the globe, ranging from the likes of bus stops to refugee shelters.

"Ideally you can have the solar panels generating during the day, and the biological system at night," Bombelli said. "To address the world's energy needs, we need a portfolio of many different technologies, and it's even better if these technologies can operate in synergy."

The solar hub will be unveiled to the public at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden on March 10 as part of the "Trap the Light Fantastic: Plant to Power" Cambridge Science Festival event.

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