Despite what some right-wingers would have you think, we’re making quick work of the planet. (Check out J Henry Fair’s environmental photos for some arresting evidence.) Swapping out incandescent bulbs for energy-saving CFLs can only do so much; if we’re to stave off devastation, we’re going to need more radical, holistic approaches to sustainability. Philips, the Dutch electronics company, has one such game-changing idea: the Microbial Home, a domestic ecosystem that harnesses biological processes to break down waste and convert it into energy. At its heart is the “bio-digester” kitchen island, which uses bacteria to generate gas.
Philips unveiled the Microbial Home concept at this year’s Dutch Design Week. From the company’s press release: “We need to push ourselves to rethink domestic appliances entirely, to rethink how homes consume energy,” says Clive van Heerden, Philips’s senior director of Design-Led Innovation. That includes a kitchen that powers itself. Apart from the usual chopping surface and gas range, the bio-digester island—made from copper, cast iron, glass, and bamboo—features a vegetable grinder and bacteria culture that lives on organic waste and produces methane gas. The gas is collected, burned, and fed to a cooking range and gas mantle lights. It’s also used to preheat water pipes leading to other parts of the house.
The digester requires a steady supply of water and waste material in the form of vegetable scraps and, uh, bathroom waste solids—which certainly challenges conventional notions of cleanliness in the kitchen, not to mention household chores. The resulting sludge residue can be safely removed and recycled as compost.
Philips views its system as a step away from the electro-mechanical age and toward a biological age, in which by-products are no longer waste but fuel for other systems. Stay tuned: We’ll be taking look at all the other components of the Microbial Home, including a filtering squatting toilet and an urban beehive.