Bacteria Powered Lightbulb

Bacteria, Not Electricity, Powers This Light Bulb

by Mary Mazzoni
Published on December 5th, 2011

Philips, electronics, bio light, bacteria, light, lampThis futuristic combination of glass, steel and bioluminescent bacteria could be the future of home lighting. Photo: Philips

We’ve all heard of energy efficient lighting, but how about lighting that requires no electricity at all? Dutch electronics company Philips is testing a futuristic lighting technology powered solely by recycled household waste and live bacterial culture.

While inviting bacteria into your home may sound a little icky, the company’s “bio-light” harnesses the power of microorganisms to provide soft, cozy lighting for any room of the house without using a watt of electricity – making the whole idea sound more green than gross.

The test probe is comprised of a wall of glass cells containing bioluminescent bacteria that naturally produce light in a manner similar to fireflies. The bacteria cast a warm green glow when fed methane gas, which, in the test model, is pumped into the lighting system from a household waste digester.

“Energy-saving light bulbs will only take us so far,” said Clive van Heerden, senior director of design-led innovation at Philips Design. “We need to push ourselves to rethink domestic appliances entirely, to rethink how homes consume energy and how entire communities can pool resources.”

Part of the company’s Microbial Home project – a science fiction-like vision of a household ecosystem that uses bacteria to rethink energy, cleaning, food preservation, lighting and human waste – the bio-light could potentially be self-energizing and self-repairing, the company said.

“In [the Microbial Home] project the home has been viewed as a biological machine to filter, process and recycle what we conventionally think of as waste – sewage, effluent, garbage and waste water,” the company said.

In addition to home lighting, bio-light technology could potentially be used for nighttime road markings, warning strips on stairs and curbsides, diagnostic indicators for local pollution levels and even biosensors for monitoring diseases like diabetes, the company said.

Philips said the bio-light is more suitable for mood-lighting than “functional illumination,” but researchers are intrigued by the prospect of energy-free light. The technology will continue to be tested as part of the Microbial Home project, the company said.