The microbes are coming...to light your house

By Gary Hartley

We’d like to think we’re pushing boundaries with our low carbon technology trials, like the one we reported on last week about LEDs in social housing. But we’d be the first to admit that we’re not quite up to testing living organisms for their potential to reduce domestic carbon emissions just yet.

We’re all loosely familiar with the ‘rebranding’ of bacteria – the yoghurt adverts have seen to that. But it’s fair to say that few of us will have thought of the tiny wee critters ever, say, lighting our homes.

That may be about to change, if microbes – and electronics firm Phillips – have their way. See, if you supply bacteria with nutrients they’ll go all glow-worm on your abode, using the enzyme luciferase and its substrate luciferin to generate light indefinitely: way better than your average glow-stick with its limited shelf-light.

Heat-generating incandescence has forever driven electronic lighting advancements in the home, and while energy efficiency on this front has made huge strides, energy wasted via heat just won’t go away completely. In contrast, luminescence provided by the likes of the clever bacteria here waste not a jot. Cool, calm biological efficiency.

Sure, the kind of light provided isn’t quite up to providing all you need for your home – although it would more than suffice for some cracking Christmas lights – it does float an exciting possibility. The truth is that a sustainable future not open to even the more outlandish ideas, is one not likely to succeed.

The alive lighting is all about Phillips’ vision of a ‘living home’ which sees the places we live as potential biological machines, filtering, processing and recycling our wastes and excesses to something beautiful and cyclical. There goes the theory – getting people to accept their revolutionary home isn’t going to gobble up their family in the style of a cheesy 1960’s B-movie may be quite another thing. 

As we found when we asked people what a low-carbon home looked like a couple of years ago and we got drawings of Tellytubby-like domes, it takes concerted effort to help the public make the leap from words, to concepts, to actually living the dream.

It may be that living in organic-processing machines that look rather slick to boot may be a few years away. But should these concepts prove to be cost-effective and realistic for mass roll-out, the key is to make it all practical, liveable on a daily basis, and with some thought to the importance of the comforting reassurance of the shape of the homes we’ve all grown up with. It won’t bite, honest…