Alive and "Growing" Electric Power Poles in Rural Honduras


This first photo shows the power lines coming from the power house. You can see the newly cut branches from the Madreado trees have been planted as power poles. Photo via Brian Thomas (Baylor University)

With the cost of cement electric power poles and the problem of termites infesting wooden poles, the villages of Honduras had but one obvious option when Village Energy Inc. came to town to run a line of hydropowered electricity to their remote rural regions... plant live trees!Bringing Power to Rural Honduras
It isn't often that you hear a story of a Third World village receiving electricity, where not only is its power source primarily renewable, but its means of transporting the power to the villages is also just as eco-conscience.

"We were looking at where to buy telephone poles, the government prefers using concrete polls, but they were rather expensive as you can imagine," says Ryan McGhee, one of the graduate students from Baylor University working on the project. Upon proposing the problem to the villagers who were anxiously awaiting electricity to be brought to their homes (a stretch of about two miles), they were immediately told that the solution could be found within the very straight growing, dense, and hardy tree called the Madreado.

"One of the options that was available to us was the Madreado tree (Madero Negro), which we believe means, the Motherly Tree," says Ryan. "The villagers use it for fences to keep their cattle contained, since you can take a branch of it, chop it with a machete, stick it in a shallow hole, and without doing anything else, nine times out of ten it will sprout and grow a new tree."


This second photo shows a barbed wire fence constructed from Madreado tree branches. The branches have turned into small trees, which is exactly how the power poles will look in a few years. Photo via Brian Thomas (Baylor University)
The Madreado "Motherly" Tree
The villagers ventured out, cut off some of the biggest Madreado tree branches they could find, buried the poles in the ground, and strung the power line from tree to tree. "Instead of cutting down 140 trees to distribute power," says Brian Thomas, Senior Lecturer at Baylor University. "We actually planted 140 trees."

"Because the tree grows from the tip upward and radiantly outward from its growth rings, once we put the power line at 20 feet, it will pretty much stay at that height," says Ryan. "We don't have to worry about it stretching."

The trees should outlast most any other inexpensive solution they could have used, and the only upkeep is to have someone check the trees every so often to make sure they are all healthy. "We've gotten a lot of pretty odd comments," says Ryan. "But it was basically the only inexpensive solution that would combat the main problem of termites—their termites eat through practically anything."

Okay, so this idea may have its share of technical difficulties for the future, but it is still a very functional and incredibly innovative solution to a problem that would have quite frankly had even MacGyver stumped!

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Tags: Batteries | Clean Energy | Electricity | Honduras | Poverty | Renewable Energy | Universities | Utilities

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