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This system will help provide the basis for managing, protecting, and optimizing the global food supply  before invisible threats compromise production

Potential future applications include: protecting crops and forests, predicting earthquakes, and saving water by improving irrigation

The sensor system will allow the early detection of insect pests that threaten valuable crops and tree species.


Voltree is also launching CircuiTree, a kit that incorporates gamification and geo-location of tree voltage experiments to encourage citizen scientists

VOLTREE POWER has developed bioenergy sensors that use natural voltages present in trees and plants to detect patterns that indicate disease, infestation, stress, dehydration, and seismic activity.
Innovation Summary

Voltree Power has proprietary technology that not only harvests energy from a living tree, converting the chemical activity of the tree into electric power, but also leverages this technology for various sensor applications. Right now, the company’s focus is on further testing and proving of this and related technologies, with an eye to anticipating emerging challenges in agricultural and forestry and developing new solutions.

One such solution is a system that will provide the early detection of insect pests that threaten valuable crops and tree species. Many of these species have a severe impact on the ecological balance of sensitive areas and also on the agricultural resources of many areas of the world. Voltree is developing a system that uses acoustic technology to identify the sounds of pest larvae while they are feeding on plants, thereby providing the early detection of insects such as the Asian Long Horned Beetle (ALB) and the Red Palm Beetle. Detection of an infestation in the early stages will not only prevent the loss of many trees or plants, it will allow the use of an environmentally safe remediation approach. Landowners, public or private, can undertake precise extraction of infested trees, rather than the widespread removal of affected trees to contain the threat or the massive use of environmentally damaging chemical pesticides.

The work that goes into the development of this system will also be useful for other applications in natural resource preservation and smart agriculture. Voltree already has several sensor systems in place in the U.S. and abroad to provide data that assists with forest fire prediction and management. Other potential applications will help detect plant and tree disease, measure soil content for better and more precise fertilizer use, sense moisture levels for improved irrigation and water conservation, and detect seismic activity.


Voltree’s sensor applications have tremendous potential to address critical needs in natural resource management and agriculture. They will help eradicate pests, decrease tree mortality, increase agricultural production, conserve water, reduce pesticide and fertilizer use, and provide early warnings for earthquakes. In addition, by using low-power technology, cloud computing, and data analysis, Voltree’s solutions use fewer resources than current methods.

Voltree is also promoting science and experiential education through its CircuiTree Bioenergy Science Kit. CircuiTree includes an energy harvesting circuit and an LED light that lights up with “tree power.” A “Citizens Science Project” app encourages students to compete with peers globally to see who can light the most trees by figuring out the science behind tree power, and allows them to record the voltages in various trees. The project could potentially enable global monitoring of the earth’s soil, crops, and forests by citizen scientists to add to our understanding of environmental conditions and emerging risks.


Voltree’s founders first filed for a patent for “tree power” in 2005. They sponsored research at MIT to better understand how the technology worked, which led to a published paper. They then began working with the USDA Forest Service on projects related to fire prediction and management.



There are 23,000 potential sites for Rentricity's hydrokinetic energy recovery systems in the U.S. alone

400 Billion gallons of water run through pipes each day. The moving water has to be slowed down with pressure reduction valves, creating friction and wasting energy

Given the availability of precise measurements for flow rates and pressure, in-pipe hydro is  more predictable than wind or solar energy

Currently, 20 % of water flowing through pipes is lost to leakage. Rentricity's solution offers better leak detection for improved water quality and conservation

RENTRICITY’S renewable energy technology, which captures wasted energy in water pipelines and generates electricity, has potential to offset much of the energy used to circulate water and wastewater in municipal and industrial systems throughout the world.
Innovation Summary

400 billion gallons of water run through pipes each day, half of which is used in energy generation primarily for cooling, a quarter of which is used in agriculture, another 50 billion gallons for personal use, and 50 billion gallons for industrial use. Most of this water is gravity-fed. The moving water gains speed and pressure and has to be slowed down with pressure reduction valves, creating friction and wasting energy.

Rentricity currently deploys two in-pipe hydro energy recovery systems, Flow-to-Wire and Sustainable Energy and Monitoring Systems (SEMS) to convert excess pressure in water pipes into clean electricity. These systems generally include a micro-turbine, generator, sensors, processors, electronic controls, and communications equipment. The electricity produced can either be sold to the electric grid or used behind the meter to offset water systems’ energy requirements, which account for 4 percent of electricity consumption in the U.S. (7 percent globally).

Given the availability of precise measurements for flow rates and pressure within water systems, in-pipe hydro provides a more predictable power supply than other renewables, like wind or solar energy. This consistent in-system electricity generation could provide power for distributed water treatment to increase water quality. It could also power sensors for better leak detection. About 20 percent of water flowing through pipes is lost to leakage, so having a way to detect leaks in more remote sections of water systems could make a significant difference in water conservation.

There are 23,000 potential sites for Rentricity’s hydrokinetic energy recovery systems in the U.S. alone, including industrial and wastewater treatment systems, mandated small dam releases, and water transfer stations, and a significant amount of water infrastructure is currently being built or repaired across the globe. Rentricity envisions a world where all water and wastewater pipes undergo an “energy recovery audit” to identify potential opportunities.


The central idea behind Rentricity’s technologies is to capture energy that’s being wasted and convert it into usable electricity. That, in and of itself, is a dMASS strategy. But Rentricity has greater potential to address multiple problems within a complex system.

First, Rentricity’s systems currently bypass water pressure reduction valves (PRVs). Eventually, the company may develop a “pressure reduction turbine” to both generate electricity and perform the function of a PRV, thereby replacing the need for two separate pieces of equipment. Already, the technologies rely primarily on pre-existing infrastructure. Second, Retricity’s technology provides an energy source closer to the end point of water systems, which could enable more effective, distributed water treatment, as well as power distributed sensors to detect leaks. Finally, Rentricity’s technology comes at an important time. America’s water infrastructure is in disrepair, with hundreds of billions of dollars going towards replacing and upgrading pipes and valves that were put in place up to one hundred years ago. Worldwide, new infrastructure is being built at a rapid pace. Placing an energy harvesting system within these new water systems now will provide a significant source of power and will build resiliency into the systems.


Rentricity was founded in 2003 and has received funding from state energy agencies in Connecticut, New York, and Rhode Island to test and develop its technologies. The company has installed systems in two water treatment plants in the Pittsburgh region and one in Keene, New Hampshire, and another four systems will come on line in 2013.



Resource Fix: Sensors for optimizing waste & recycling management

Even as we reduce waste and close the loop on materials use, we will continue to need some form of materials collection. Today, there are a lot of inefficiencies in the waste collection system. Trucks are dispatched to pick up half-empty containers, while other containers overflow. Companies rely on incomplete data regarding waste pick-ups to track recycling and other aspects of waste management.

Finland-based Enevo Oy has developed a new system to alleviate these problems. ONe Collect uses sensors to monitor waste levels in containers in real time. Customers can monitor statistics on how much waste they’re shipping and when. The system can not only cut down on unneeded trips, but provide better feedback that can be used to reduce how much waste is produced in the first place.

New applications for sensors are being piloted all the time. What other new applications have you seen? How might they improve resource performance?