Growing Electricity

What’s it all about and other current and more well known methods
As the fossil fuel supplies become scarcer, natural sources of energy are increasing in importance. Next to the more well known ‘green’ powers sources like wind and solar power, a relatively new method called; Microbial fuel cell. This technique has got a lot more attention over the last few years from scientists and designers who work together to further investigate it’s possible use.

Microbial fuel cell
A microbial fuel cell, or MFC for short, is a device that can use microbes to generate electricity. A MFC has two electrodes and an area that separates the electrodes, called a membrane. For a MFC to function, electricity must flow into one electrode, called the anode, and leave the other electrode which is called the cathode. The membrane requires three main elements to power the MFC; living organism’s that can produce electrons, nutrients to feed the organism’s and water. Some types of soil and water bacteria can generate electricity as well as plants like rice and algae. The organism’s eat what is in the membrane, such as microscopic nutrients and sugars, and in turn, produce electrons that are released back into the membrane. Electrons are subatomic particles that have a negative charge. These electrons can be harnessed and used to create electricity.

Microrganism’s / Decay
In a MFC using peat bacteria, the anode is buried down in damp peat. Down there, the bacteria multiply and cover the electrode (creating a biofilm on it), supplying it with a lot of electrons. At the same time, the cathode is placed on the top of the soil, leaving one of its sides completely exposed to the air. Electrons from the bottom electrode travel up a wire to the top electrode and, once there, they react with oxygen from the air and hydrogen that is made by the bacteria as it digests nutrients in the peat to create water.

Pres2  Pres3

Plants / growing
The Plant-Microbial Fuel Cell generates electricity while the plants continue to grow. Importantly, the system doesn’t affect the plant’s growth or harm its environment. When plants use photosynthese to create there own food from the sunlight the MFC takes advantage of the overproductions of the organic matter produced via photosynthesis that can’t be used by the plant and is excreted through the roots. As naturally occurring bacteria around the roots break down this organic residue, electrons are released as a waste product.


Latro lamp
Algae has long been studied for the possibilty as the next super fuel due to its high concentration oils. Scientists have studied this oil for decades as the key ingredient in the production of biodiesel, creating a fuel that burns cleaner and more efficiently than the petroleum it was born to replace. However, almost three-quarters of the sunlight energy absorbed by algae is lost before it can be turned into the sugars or starches used to make biofuels.

Designed by Mike Thompson; Latro, which means thief in latin, incorporates both the natural energy potential of algae and the functionality of a hanging lamp into its design. Synthesising both nature and technology in one form, Latro is a living, breathing product. Algae are incredibly easy to cultivate, requiring only sunlight, carbon dioxide (CO2) and water, thus offering a remarkably simple way of producing energy. Breathing into the handle of the lamp provides the algae with CO 2, whilst the side spout allows the addition of more water and release of oxygen. Placing the lamp outside in the daylight, the algae use sunlight to synthesise foods from carbon dioxide and water. A light sensor monitors the light intensity, only permitting the leeching of electrons when the level passes the threshold. This way, algae can be tapped for electricity during photosynthesis without abusing the algae. The energy is subsequently stored in a battery ready to be called upon during hours of darkness. Owners of Latro are required to treat the algae much like a pet – feeding and caring for the algae rewarding them with light.


After life
The Afterlife project by James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau is intended to create dialogue and examine the cultural shift from belief systems upheld by organised religion to the more factual basis of science and technology. The project proposes the harnessing of our chemical potential after biological death through the application of a microbial fuel cell, harvesting its electrical potential in a dry cell battery. As the designers say: “In this project, technology acts to provide conclusive proof of life after death, life being contained in the battery. There are many perspectives and beliefs on what happens to us after our lives in this planet come to an end. When faced with our own mortality or that of a loved one, notions of what the afterlife may hold; whether it be in a spirit world such as heaven or reincarnated into another body or form, spiritual faith can offer great comfort and reassurance. Science and reason though have started to undermine these traditional belief systems as we strive to find logic and meaning in our existence. This scientific research has yet to offer any tangible proof of continued existence, after death. So in terms of comfort and reassurance what then is there for the grieving atheist?”

The Afterlife device harness the chemical reaction of decay and convert it into usable electrical energy via a microbial fuel cell. This electricity is contained within a familiar dry cell battery. The afterlife battery can be used to run a range of memorial products chosen to suit the needs of the individual. Utilization of the battery in a meaningful product offers both psychological and emotional benefit. Where to put the battery is an extremely personal and emotive choice. Preserving the potential energy for special moments such as birthdays or anniversaries. The Afterlife batteries of couples could be combined to provide double the power or amp-hours and also suggesting an ongoing co-existence after death.


My own opinion / statement
Because the bacteria that can produce electrons are found almost everywhere on Earth, MFC can make clean, renewable electricity nearly anyplace around the globe. Even within a swamp or river it is possible to produce small amount of electricity. Bur more suitable for the process is a closed environment in gardens or roof tops to provide enough natural sunlight and nutrients. A consequence is that it will require constant care for the plants through automated means. A new way to counter this problem is to use rice for instance to provide energy and it can be used as food supply at the same time. This way it will be possible to create an alternative power source and food supply which is can be reward full. On a social aspect we see designers create possible applications for personal use. Growing your own  energy by care or the use of left over vegetables it is possible to create your own energy source within a domestic environment. To be able to directly interact with your own power supply creates a greater awareness for sustainable electricity.

Bor Smulders –  0652110868


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