Living Energy- connecting science, design and nature to light up our world. by Team Living Light
We can provide our world with sustainable energy by tapping into nature with care. We present you a lamp which lights up using plant power.
Living Light is an atmospheric lamp which harvests its energy from the plant living next to the lamp itself. The light of the lamp is produced by 'plant microbial fuel cell technology ': energy generated by bacteria in the soil which release electrons while breaking down organic compounds of the plant. These collected electrons, for which we have created a storage mechanism, produce enough energy to light up the LED lights for about an hour in the current phase of development. Because the Living Light symbolysis and extra-ordinary lamp, we have given it an extra-ordinary switch: by softly stroking the leafs transforms this ordinary plant into a Living Light.
The duration of light depends on the wellbeing of the plant: the better you take care of the plant, the more energy you will receive from the plant. Hereby Living Light will remind us once again that if we take good care of nature, nature will provide us with everything we need. This state of mutual dependence is a realisation humans lost over time, a realisation which we need to get back in time.
The goal of the Living Light is to light up the world with this sustainable source of energy: to light up our room, streets and parks with plant power (hear more about Living Light at https://vimeo.com/219501611But we can take it even a step further: imagine yourself a connected forest, which allows the trees to combine their energy to create a power-plant! This might seem far fetched, but as we are already producing lamps through plant power, this will be the next step in the chain.
Through these actions our living energy proposal will be fulfilling many SGDs, but with a special focus on SDG 7; access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all, SDG 9; build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation and SDG 13; take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
What actions do you propose?
The proposals presented above can create a wonderful combination with the Living Light project in order to achieve synergies for achieving many SDGs. I will run through the value of these proposals for the Living Light project as the other way around.
Regarding the first proposal, electricity/ energy should be available to everyone: energy is crucial for receiving good healthcare, cooking our meals, decontaminating water, lighting up our villages and getting us faster from A to B (SDG 2, 3, 6, 7 & 13). Therefore, making energy as accessible as possible, energy as a currency would be an interesting mechanism in this sense, is extremely important in allowing every human on this planet the same basic treatment. The Living Light project will make this possible. Although we are currently in the scale up phase, and the lamps are still quite expensive (the first 50 lamps will be sold at 1500,00 euro's, due to their local, limited handmade and sustainable production costs), the costs with mass production are expected to get down extremely, making it a worthy and cheap energy source in even the most remote places. As the technology actually works better in warmer places, the potential of this plant power to light up and provide the world with energy is limitless. Although one of our plants can produce just enough energy (0.1 mW per plant) to light up LED lights for an hour (or charge some sensors/ charge your mobile for over a limited time), connecting multiple plants, will already make a huge change. We already know that we can generate 10 W from 100 m2 of MFC technology, which enables us to charge phones, light up streets and provide people with WIFI.
The second proposal, biodiversity corridors, reveals the importance behind using native plants and trees in order to provide ourselves with biodiversity and energy at the same time. As biodiversity is decreasing through our burdening practices on the planet, getting energy from plants and trees would boost our intentions to plant more plants and trees: bringing back a greener and potentially more biodiverse environment (SDG 15). Instead of burdening and extorting our planet to get energy, we are actually restoring it, making the practice of creating a green environment actually a financially interesting one. This synergy is in this sense a two way street: by needing plant and trees for energy, we will plant more (native) plants and trees through which biodiversity corridors can be established.
In line with the second proposal is the third: an initiative to green the places we live, with a special focus on generating a higher demand for green buildings. This is interesting as when we can produce energy from 'the green', the demand for green buildings and houses will go up. This is not only interested for increasing biodiversity and tackling climate change (SDG 13) but also to establish a healthy environment (SDG 3) through the facts that plants and trees will also be integrated inside of the buildings, which has a positive impact on the indoor environment (which is fairly needed as a lot of people stay for 90% of their time indoor).
Proposal four, the hidden potential of edible plants to fight hunger (SDG 2). This would of course be a perfect combination: grow edible plants on a sustainable and fair way (SDG 8), make sure that these plants contribute to biodiversity (SDG 15), and let these plants simultaneously provide the community with energy (SDG 12). This creates the ultimate win-win situation.
Although we are currently growing our own, specific types of plants (ones which are userfriendly: do not need much light, can endure in a humid environment etcetera), we will experiment with edible plants in the nearby future: we want to discover whether we can implement our MFC technology underneath a bed of crob in an urban farm. This being said, the MFC technology works with every plant (without any technology adaptation), we only need the photosynthesis process for the bacteria to digest the organic compounds. The reason why we grow our own plants is only that we have some assurances towards our first customers: for example, they can put their cabbage plant into the soil of the Living Light, we only then cannot guarentee that the plant will produce enough organic compounds that the lamp will light up for an hour a day. So, therefore it can be interesting to connect a lot of edible plants to discover whether we can create the some result. Which leads us to the final proposal: urban farming.
Of course the Living Light will be interesting in urban farms; creating a powerplant from thousants and thousants of edible plants which are being grown. This implementation is highly promising, as we know that plants which are growing release the biggest amount of organic compounds, which would suggest that the bacteria in the soil are more numerous and therefore produce more electrons. Although we haven't yet tested this hypothesis, with some more funding we will definitely take this concept into the next phase as well.
Then imagine, integrating all these concepts into one geographical area, like a park or street in a city. Imagine that in this place energy will be extremely cheap, because the plants will provide us with energy endlessly, all the buildings are green and with edible plants; creating a vegetable garden and power plant at the same time and simultaneously making sure that lots of different types of plants and trees are including, stimulating biodiversity. This will be an ultimate, circulair village, benefiting the community and nature itself at the same time. In this sense, all these initiatives can benefit from each other and will create an environment where impact is only increased!
As a final remark: although we are currently focussing on light and on the side working on powering sensors and mobile chargers (this is already possible with our amount of generated energy), we are know looking for ways to use other 'waste' products, such as urine and dishwater, in combination with the MFC technology to see how much energy is generated from these sources. So, in the nearby future we will also be experimenting with that.
Who will take these actions and which types of actors are involved?
A combination of actors can be involved into making this synergy into a success. Of course, if we want to combine the four other theses into a major, circular and green project, the initiators of these proposals should be included to include their knowledge and ideas regarding their projects. Furthermore, we often work together with governments, as the implementation of such a groundbreaking project if often implemented in public spaces, which once again can be the case in this synergy construction. Private parties might be interested in joining this initiative, we only do not accept parties such as Shell or a political party to invest in our project: we want lay the focus on accelerating the energy transition through plant power, we do not want to involve any party which could distract the focus and alter the message of this project.
We from Living Light are definitely capable of leading these actions, as we have many experiences in setting up major projects between several stakeholders and different missions. We have done projects between scientists, designers, governments and environmental parties.
Where will these actions be taken and how could they scale?
As plant power is an energy source which produces energy as long as the photosynthesis process is running (which differs per plant but is often related to the amount and intensity of sun hours per day), therefore actually works best in environments where the temperatures are a bit higher, we recommend our first project to be in a capital city of a city which is facing the direct impact of climate change: a city like Caïro. As this city can use some green, the air is polluted and as not every citizen in this city has access to energy, integrating Living Light into the city centre would be a great possibility. We could improve the local climate, provide the people a food garden, great a beautiful community space and make sure the city gets a little safer by creating lightning based on plant power.
Therefore, to be more specific, we would be thrilled to create a park in Caïro, a green oasis in a busy and dry city, where a community, vertical garden is situated in the middle of the park. Not only do all the plants in this park produce energy, so does the vertical garden where local edible plants are being grown and taken care of by a local primary school. We should not only use the produced energy to light up the park and streets surrounding it, but also put a sensor in the garden, to see how the edible plants are doing. Furthermore we can install charging points in the park, where people can charge their mobile phones (as this is a object which is being used a lot in Egypt). In this sense, people will not only find this park a wonderful place to come to, but it will become a practical and valuable place to go to for every single man and woman in the city.
Although the place of implementation for the Living Light doesn't really matter that much (it can be implemented everywhere with a water bassin underneath, and as long as it is 0+ degrees for more than 90% of the year), it is important that people slowly start to realise and accept the potential behind the MFC technology and start using them for even more applications. Therefore, cities are currently more preferred as more people will become in contact with the development and its application than in a rural place. This doesn't mean that this technology cannot be extremely valuable in rural place, on the contrary! But we just have to make sure that we can take the first hurdles before we can light up and energy in many more ways the world with this technology.
If this urban project is a success, we can easily scale up to other cities as we already have experience with integrating the Living Light into city parks (we will light up a park in Rotterdam using this technique). Especially in places where drought hits hard and the people can use some positive developments, we would love to provide them with the answer of some of their needs: food, green, harvest, lower temperatures and a place which connects all its inhabitants.
In addition, specify the countries where these actions will be taken.
What impact will these actions have on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?
As this circular project is designed to especially mitigate climate impact, we will elaborate on the positives of this project.
Harvesting energy from plants will result in a massive sustainable energy revolution as it is more sustainable than the current energy sources in every way.
To begin with: the way that this technology is produced. As we work with small cells, there is a limited amount of material needed to harvest the electrons from the plants. Were the microbial fuel cells only weigh up to some hundreds of grams, whereas a regular windturbines (80 meters high) weighs easily up to 22.000(!) kilograms. This of course is all valuable materials which needs to be sources in order to produce these 'sustainable energy' producers. Moreover, a scarcity of rare metals, which are used in solar cells and electric car batteries, will also deplete our planet. The only 'filthy' thing Living Light uses is small pieces of carbon fiber.
Regarding producing energy: its completely CO2 neutral!
What are the most innovative aspects and main strengths of this approach?
When we develop plant energy even further and perfect it, it can become an energy source such as wind or solar energy. But where wind and solar energy can only be generate when the wind blows or when the sun shines, the photosynthesis process (often) continues throughout the day and can be activated during the night thanks to our storage system. Furthermore, for this technology, only a few materials are needed and all these materials are available locally, resulting in the fact that making the technology behind the plant power is less harmful to the environment than wind- and solar energy.
Furthermore, as already mentioned above but now with regards to the cities stated above, using plants to generate energy has even more positive effects: hunger can be curbed through more harvests, the (local) environment will be better through the abundance of plants, CO2 will be captured and humans will restore its dependence and appreciation with nature.
What are the proposal’s projected costs?
The costs for implementing one m2 of Living Light (including plants, interaction, lights, water bassins, hufterproof implementations etc.) costs 1680,- euros. This means that the costs are depending on the amount of space covered. But, as for some countries this might be a lot of money, we can also start crowdfunding campaigns for these countries, so they can realise such a place anyway and include a main attraction in their country.
Regarding maintenance costs, this depends on the size and the surprises we might come along. As MFC tech remains to be a technology based on nature, we do have to accept that sometimes nature will surprise us with its complicatedness. So, we can train local people to know everything we know regarding the system, and let them fix all the possible challenges (costs: +/- 10000E for the entire training and help), but still we have to save some money for surprises.
More challenges, such as making the project 'bully-proof' and making sure that the everybody can enjoy and benefit from this green, circular, power generating place is being care of by Living Light itself, as we will put this technique in more parks in the Netherlands, we are experienced with these types of challenges.
A positive note regarding temperature is: the warmer a country on average is, the more energy will be generated from the plants. As in the winter the bacteria, which will eat the leftover products of the photosynthesis to create electrons, will be less active through the cold, and the electrons less 'moveable', implementing this technique into warmer countries which actually have a positive effect on the amount of energy which can be harvests.
We of course do have to be aware that in the countries we are planning to create these areas, this project should be perceived as being beneficial to the whole population. For example, it would be strange to implement this environment in a country which is currently dealing with civil wars and/ or an epidemic. These emergency situations should be tackled first before the creation of more green and energy in the country becomes a priority. Although, in the end, the implementation of this project can ease the tensed situation (for example through a cooler and greener environment which leads to more harvests and the creation of energy which can lead to better healthcare), it can feel quite weird for the population to spend money on this project instead of spending it on their urgent needs. The opinion of the people regarding this project should of course be asked.
We do not expect any trade-offs on this project: only extra inclusion of other SDG projects into this project. We hope that we can, for example, use plant power in the nearby future to charge devices which are in demand of more power than led lights. In this way we could produce energy for hospitals, ovens and public transfer. This could lead to a massive transformation in the energy sector, where energy is available for anybody who cares for the green.
About the Authors
Ermi van Oers is a product designer who is always looking for the connection between human, nature and technology. She studied product design of the Willem de Kooning Academie in the Netherlands and is currently also living in the Netherlands. She has the capabilities to understand and connect complex and specialised science and turn it into something useful and practical. Her quest for these connections have led to the discovery of the microbial fuel cell technology. This technology was already further developed by Plant-e, of which she started a collaboration to translate the potential of plant power into something practical: a Living Light.
Thanks to her open mindedness and the projects she has already done, she will be a key figure in combining the initiatives presented above and accelerate the energy transition to fight climate change.
Karlijn Arts is equipped with positivism and many social skills, who sees possibilities and connections in every challenge. As a strong linking partner she is building bridges between new technologies and sustainability which got her involved in projects for many NGOs. Thanks to these talents she is making sure that the energy transition is getting a solid push and that a strong collaborative network is created, endorsing the journey of the Living Light in creating synergies.
In this sense Karlijn will make sure that the parties will sketch a plan jointly, including all their objectives and SDGs, putting it into practice swiftly and making sure that the project runs smoothly throughout its operation.
Furthermore, Karlijn has an academic background in communications, psychology, international security studies, anthropology, international law and politics. She currently lives in the Netherlands.
What enabling environment would be required in order to implement this proposal?
First of all, open minded people whom are willing to invest some of their enthusiasm, energy and continue to be determined in order to make this project into a huge success.
Major changes do not come easy, as we have to change our mindset and behavior drastically, we have to mentally as physically invest to push this change forward. Therefore we need people whom are ready for a challenge and whom will not give up the first time anything does not goes as it was planned. To turn these groundbreaking and inclusive projects into a success, we first of all need these kind of people.
Furthermore, we need the society to be informed and be positive about these developments. The largest challenge I see in implementing these innovative and sustainable technologies in Cairo, is that people can become angry: spending money on sustainability whereas some families are dying in the suburbs through honger and a horrible health system. This can cause rage, especially when people do not realise that it is beneficial for their own wellbeing and environment.
Of course, this project falls or stands with people or companies which are willing to pay for the project and will make sure that it keeps on going. These people/ companies have to see this project as an onset of many more to come. They have to see themselves as the ambassadors of this project, a project which needs to be nourished in order to become a great success. This needs financial determination and a financial plan which includes space for further R&D and unexpected changes, and, once again, people who are eager to carry this project into the new standard of providing our world with energy.