Starting next year, the federal government will begin phasing out regular incandescent light bulbs, driving consumers to buy more energy-efficient but imperfect substitutes such as CFLs (which contain mercury) and LEDs (which are expensive). Perhaps, Philips suggests, the time has come to look beyond electrically dependent alternatives to a biological source of light: bacteria. That’s the idea behind the Dutch electronics company’s Bio-Light concept, which harnesses the light generated by bioluminescent microorganisms—a disinterested move by a company in the business of making all sorts of light bulbs.
The idea is part of Philips’s conceptual Microbial Home, a domestic ecosystem that exploits biological processes to generate energy from waste. (For posts on the kitchen powered by poo, an urban beehive, and a paternoster that turns plastic containers into edible mushrooms, go, respectively, here, here, and here.) The Bio-Light consists of hand-blown glass cells containing a type of bacteria that generate light through a chemical process called luminescence, which, as opposed incandescence, does not generate heat. Each cell is connected to a food source—in this case, composting sludge—via a silicon tube, thereby creating a closed-loop system.
But before you dream of lowering your electric bill by growing your own bioluminescent bacteria, here’s something to bear in mind: The microbes emit a ghastly green hue, which besides being wholly unflattering, isn’t bright enough to read by. As such, Philips imagines bioluminescence could be used for nighttime road markings, warning strips on stairways and curbsides, and informational signs in low-light settings such as theaters and nightclubs.