Carnivorous Furniture Powered by Bacteria

Robert Krulwich, in his blog ‘Krulwich Wonders’, recently  wrote about the fascinating and morbid creations of designers James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau. These creations are typical furniture such as a clock, lamp, and table, but are built to have a carnivorous streak.

James Auger and Dr. Chris Melhuish speak about their creations:

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During the development of a digital wall clock powered by flies, Auger and Loizeau drew inspiration from carnivorous plants that trapped insects and consumed them for nutrients. A trap mechanism, which consisted of a slowly rolling sticky conveyor belt, deposited any unfortunate flies into a microbial fuel cell sitting below the belt. The display of the clock was powered entirely by the energy obtained from the digestion of the flies. However, the conveyor belt motor was powered by battery or through an outlet, since the trap did not catch enough flies to power the motor.

A microbial fuel cell is a chamber that contains bacteria, which consume organic material. During consumption, the bacteria release electrons that the fuel cell channels to generate electricity and power whatever is connected to the cell. Microbial fuel cells have also been used to generate power from algae.

A dirt-based microbial fuel cell (MFC) - By: Engineering for Change via Flickr

Dr. Chris Melhuish and his team at the Bristol Robotic Laboratory have utilized microbial fuel cells to power robots called ‘EcoBots’. These robots are outfitted with microbial fuel cells that created a system, similar to digestion, which effectively extracted and used energy from the environment. For example, dead flies fed to the robot were digested by bacteria in the microbial fuel cells, the ‘gut’ of the robot, to provide energy for motion. Presently, the fuel cells are only capable of powering short spurts of movement. The research team aims to develop microbial fuel cells that are able to power continuous movement.

With the prices of oil rising, this technology is definitely important in the development of an alternative and renewable fuel source. Personally, I would not mind a fly powered clock, but I would steer clear of a mouse consuming coffee table.

3 responses to “Carnivorous Furniture Powered by Bacteria

  1. I agree that a mouse powered coffee table is really off-putting. I would freak out if there was a mouse in my living room, let alone rotting in my table. On another note, my current coffee table isn’t powered at all and it seems to work just fine.

    The science behind this is really interesting though. I learned about microbial fuel cells in a class last semester. Not only can they be constructed in the lab but they are also found in a rather different form in nature. The bacteria used in microbial fuel cells were actually discovered in the ocean and other aqueous environments. Scientists found that they could generate a current by sticking an electrode into the sediment of these environments. They’ve actually used this type of energy to power sensors placed in the ocean. This definitely presents an novel renewable energy source. Also, it’s really cool that some bacteria can pass electrons directly to an electrode.

  2. Super cool concept, I m always interested to see how people take inspiration from nature. I wouldn’t really want to use that clock in my home though because I just don’t have that many flies buzzing around my place to power it! However using this technology for street lights as Paula suggested above seems like an awesome idea because the lights themselves already attract insects! I wonder what other applications this technology will be used for in the future.

  3. This is such an interesting concept, but I wonder how hygienic it is? Personally I’d rather have a clock that didn’t need to use dead flies to power it, and for the mouse consuming coffee table, I feel like you have to have quite a filthy place in order for mice to be crawling around your living room! However, in nature, I can see how this would be very beneficial. Could they maybe use this technology for powering lights on the streets, or some other devices which would be more likely to trap rodents and insects?