As with our recent musings on probiotics for buildings, sometimes it’s fun and productive to think about the distant future in the microbiology of the built environment.
And Royal Philips Electronics (Netherlands) has done just that with their futuristic “Microbial Home” project. I’m not saying every one of their ideas will work, or that I’m in love with their new-age-y descriptions of everything… But I really like the overall concept. Here’s their description:
“The Microbial Home is a proposal for an integrated cyclical ecosystem where each function’s output is another’s input. In this 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, waste water.”
And of course, to do basically any of these things we’ll need lots and lots of microbes.
Here’s the basic objects in the “home”, and how they use microbes:
Bio-digester kitchen island: This uses bacteria to produce methane and heat, from kitchen scraps and human solid waste as energy sources.
Larder: This is an evaporative cooler, (using heat from the kitchen island) to keep food fresh and reduce microbial growth. Above this is a miniature garden.
Urban Beehive: Just what it sounds like, and don’t forget the antimicrobial properties of the honey, or the beneficial bacteria required for happy beehives.
Biolight: My personal favorite, a funky green light that uses bioluminescent bacteria fed with methane and compost from the kitchen island.
Apothecary: Not convinced this will work, but the idea here is a total monitoring system in the bathroom that gives you feedback on your health and recommends changes in your lifestyle/diet. I do like the emphasis on microbial indicators of health, ranging from analyzing microbial volatile organic compounds in your breath to regular examinations of your microbiota in the shower and toilet (by unspecified means).
Filtering squatting toilet: No microbes here, other than analyzing feces for your microbiota, and then feeding the bacteria in the kitchen island.
Paternoster plastic waste up-cycler: Feed recyclable plastic to fungi in the dark for a few weeks, then allow them to sprout into edible mushrooms. Cool.
2 thoughts on ““Microbial Home” by Philips takes a futuristic, holistic, positive look at microbes in the home”
Definitely an exciting project — although likely excessively ambitious.
Reminds me of Biosphere 2 in Arizona, a failed attempt begun in the early 90s to create a living ecosystem in a closed system — Wikipedia entry: “Biosphere 2 contained representative biomes: a 1,900 square meter rainforest, an 850 square meter ocean with a coral reef, a 450 square meter mangrove wetlands, a 1,300 square meter savannah grassland, a 1,400 square meter fog desert, a 2,500 square meter agricultural system, a human habitat, and a below-ground level technical infrastructure. Heating and cooling water circulated through independent piping systems and passive solar input through the glass space frame panels covering most of the facility, and electrical power was supplied into Biosphere 2 from an onsite natural gas energy center through airtight penetrations.”
Such systems are extremely hard to create and require vigilance, knowledge, and on-going management/manipulation. Small changes in flows can upset the balance and cause the system to fail.
Small scale ecosystems have been successfully used for biological waste water treatment and commerical aquaculture, but they require constant attention and adjustment of critical inputs. I am skeptical that the typical family, or even the exceptional family, will be able to manage successfully a complete closed system. However, I do think that some of the emerging technology can enable us to learn more about “natural” and human-made ecosystems to improve our stewardship of the real biosphere.
Biosphere 2, Mission 1 was a closed system that did not work well. Mission 2 was a flow through system, more realistic in terms of the way ecosystems work. (Our homes are flow-through systems, as are most (or all) habitats of living organisms.) With all the scientific knowledge and dollar power behind, it was not successful as a sustainable ecosystem.
Philips is a leader in innovation. Their fluorescent lamps had almost no mercury, unlike all the other fluorescent lamps on the market. However, they were not willing to share the technology with other companies. Hopefully their microbial home research will shared via open access web sites and scientific publications.
Good points Hal.
I guess to me the mark of a well-designed system is that it doesn’t require “vigilance, knowledge, and on-going management/manipulation”. If it’s possible to design a closed, small-scale system that mostly runs itself, or at the least monitors and adjusts by itself then I think there’s real potential in this kind of idea.
At the very least it gets people thinking about microbes in the home as not necessarily a bad thing.