Biophotovoltaic Power Plant

Speculative design exploring the integration of photosynthesic organisms into energy-generating furniture.

Biophotovoltaic (BPV) technology has been in development in recent years, designing upon the natural system that extracts energy from the splitting of a water molecule during photosynthesis. The BPV power plant implements this technology to create a living system with the output of usable power.


/ cyanobacteria

Over two billion years ago, Earth's course was transformed through the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis. This breakthrough showcased earths most efficient energy production method. Cyanobacteria, with its light-harvesting photosystem and redox homeostasis, is crucial for sustainable innovation. 

Dr. Paolo Bombelli and Dr. Chris Howe at the University of Cambridge have spent years developing Biophotovoltaic (BPV) technology to mimic photosystem II's water-splitting during photosynthesis. The BPV power plant imagines harnessing this technology to create a living cybernetic system for usable power output.

Tests have been conducted to determine the most efficient species of Cyanobacteria to generate energy in the context of bio-photovoltaics. The power plant is designed for compatibility with three separate strains.

/ arthrospira platensis
Non-nitrogen-fixing photoautotroph that is also known as spirulina. It contains the enzyme hydrogenase, making it an efficient material in energy generation. 

 (Tested by A. E. Inglesby in 2013)

/ synechococcus sp. bdu 140432

Highest electrogenic yield for any microbial consortium tested so far, also performed the best biofilm formation as the strain bounds tightly to the electrode. 

(researched by Kaushik, S., Sarma in 2017) 

/ synechocystis sp. pcc 6803

Unicellular coccoid organisms most frequently used for BPV technology due to its fully sequenced genome, offering access to tools for genetic manipulation. 

(Tested by Bradley RW on mutants of the strain) 
Chlorophyll A: light harvesting

/ sustaining microbial life
Designing a living system composed of cyanobacteria requires careful consideration of the factors necessary for sustaining microbial life. The bacteria is ideal for BPV due to its adaptive qualities of self-regulation. It can easily survive and thrive on light, CO2, and water. Their top priotity is to obtain energy through the generation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). 

/ bpv technology

Chlorophyll A absorbs light and kick starts Photosystem II, in a process where electrons are extracted from the splitting of water molecules. The protons H+ from water catalyze the proton motive force and the oxygen is released. 

Extracted electrons travel through the photosynthetic electron transfer chain, generating ATP. In BPV, these electrons move to an anode, then to a cathode connector, creating a potential difference that yields the output of power.

Biofilm formation

Base inspired by lant cell structure

Self-regulating network


/ the product
The biophotovoltaic (bpv) power plant is an apparatus that provides power and light to an indoor or outdoor space. 

The product explores the potential integration of the amazing efficiency of natural systems into design logic, and exemplifies how more sustainable processes of energy generation could function in our day-to-day lives. 

BPV Technology developed by Dr. Paolo Bombelli and Dr. Christopher Howe. 

Arun, Kumar., Amar N, Rai., Devendra P, Singh., Shankar, Singh Jay. Cyanobacteria: A Precious Bio-resource in Agriculture, Ecosystem, and Environmental Sustainability. Frontiers in Microbiology. Volume 6, pages 1-529. 2016.

Bin, Lai., Jens O, Krömer., Jenny, Tschörtner. Biophotovoltaics: Green Power Generation From Sunlight and Water. Frontiers in Microbiology. Volume 10, 1-866. 2019.

Bradley, R. W., Bombelli, P., Lea-Smith, D. J., and Howe, C. J. (2013). Terminal oxidase mutants of the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 show increased electrogenic activity in biological photo-voltaic systems. Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. 15, 13611–13618. doi: 10.1039/c3cp52438h.
Inglesby, A. E., Yunus, K., and Fisher, A. C. (2013). In situ fluorescence and electrochemical monitoring of a photosynthetic microbial fuel cell. Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys. 15, 6903–6911. doi: 10.1039/c3cp51076j.

Kaushik, S., Sarma, M. K., and Goswami, P. (2017). FRET-guided surging of cyanobacterial photosystems improves and stabilizes current in photosynthetic microbial fuel cell. J. Mater. Chem. A 5, 7885–7895. doi: 10.1039/C7TA01137G.

L. T. Wey, P. Bombelli, X. Chen, J. M. Lawrence, C. M. Rabideau, S. J. L. Rowden, J. Z. Zhang, C. J. Howe. The Development of Biophotovoltaic Systems for Power Generation and Biological Analysis. ChemElectroChem 2019, 6, 5375.

Saar, K.L., Bombelli, P., Lea-Smith, D.J. et al. Enhancing power density of biophotovoltaics by decoupling storage and power delivery. Nat Energy 3, 75–81 (2018).