The energy-generating microbial system can simultaneously supply power to homes and communicate to individuals through augmented reality to tell them how productive and happy it is.
A research consortium has created a prototype of “living bricks” that can generate energy in the home and which it hopes will ultimately replace fossil fuels and revolutionise housing.
The Active Living Infrastructure: Controlled Environment (Alice) consortium claims the living bricks can make electricity and clean water, but also ensure individuals keep informed and help them offset environmental impacts.
The Alice consortium comprises Newcastle University, the University of the West of England and Translating Nature, which collaborates with organisations, academia and artists to develop and produce artworks that use data to translate and reflect the living systems around us.
The Alice prototype is funded by UK Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020 and the EU’s Innovation Awards and brings together several ground-breaking threads of bio-digital research.
Together these create a living, breathing, energy-generating microbial system that can simultaneously supply power to the home and communicate to householders through augmented reality to tell them how productive and happy they are.
The base of the prototype is a wall of living bricks which can form entire walls and structures. These living bricks contain microbes that use liquid waste to generate energy, which can then be turned into electricity and clean water. In order to know how productive the microbes are, Alice uses biosensors that record data produced by the microbial electrons.
Alice then fuses biological and digital technologies to converse with the microbes and see how happy they are and tell us whether they need to be fed or warmed to generate more bioelectricity.
Self-powered by the microbial fuel cells inside each brick, Alice can not only be used as a source of household energy but can also transform domestic liquid wastes into clean water fit for reuse.
A digital overlay of the information, gathered from Alice’s conversations with the microbial life in each brick, is then displayed back to the household using augmented reality.
“Alice has the potential to permanently wean humanity off fossil-fuel,” said Professor Rachel Armstrong, coordinator on the Alice project from Newcastle University. “This project is part of a range of prototypes that are re-designing our buildings and reshaping the future of architecture into a two-way conversation with nature; using microbes is our way of counteracting the impacts of our increasingly hostile planetary systems. I hope this research leads to a more a sustainable future for all.”
Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, executive chair of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UKRI, described it as a revolutionary project which could change our residential environment and have a significant impact on how we power our homes in the future.
She added: “The results published today are a great example of a collaborative effort in tackling a key issue of the 21st century and should be celebrated as both an achievement for the future of sustainable living and an accomplishment of the science intrinsic to engineering biology.”