MIT's latest glowing plants pave the way for passive lighting in smart cities

Cities of the future may be powered by light-emitting plants rather than street lamps and other sources of lighting. The concept has been presented repeatedly over the past few years, including by a team of engineers at MIT. Those researchers are back with an update on the glowing plant project they introduced back in 2017, revealing their second-generation plants glow more brightly than the first-gen version.

The MIT engineers introduced glowing plants back in 2017, noting at the time that they were the first step in eventually transforming plants into useable passive lighting. A newly published study details the second-generation version of this effort, with the researchers noting that the next-gen plants glow 10 times brighter than the previous version.

According to the study, these second-generation plants can produce glowing light for several minutes after being 'charged' for 10 seconds using an LED. The lighting effect is made possible using nanoparticles featuring luciferase, an enzyme found in fireflies that give them the ability to glow.

The plant is combined with a "light capacitor" made from nanoparticles featuring strontium aluminate coated with silica. These tiny particles can absorb light from the Sun or LEDs, enabling the plants to glow brighter and for longer durations than the first-gen version. Going forward, the researchers are looking into combining the luciferase nanoparticles and light capacitors to potentially improve both brightness and longevity.

The unique lighting project comes amid growing concerns about light pollution, which results from things like storefronts, porch lights, street lamps, and more. Light pollution not only makes it harder to observe the night sky, but also has a notable impact on humans and some animals, at least when it comes to sleep cycles and quality.