Bacterial lamp emits light without plug or batteries

Photo by Hans Boddeke (large view)

Photo by Hans Boddeke

(28-10-2016) Together with researchers of the faculty of Bioscience Engineering, Dutch designer Teresa van Dongen has developed a lamp based on electrochemically active bacteria.

How it works

The lamp, called Spark of Life, contains a fluid with electrochemically active bacteria that can emit small electrical currents in their metabolism.

The lamp consists of four compartments with one electrode in each compartment. The electrodes collect the electrons, which powers four small lights. The bacterial fluid consists of a culture consisting of hundreds of different kinds of bacteria. This results in a stable and strong little eco-system.

"The bacterial community in this process is very diverse. Typically, it is dominated by so-called Geobacter bacteria, who do the majority of the work", explains Professor Korneel Rabaey, who helped Teresa van Dongen with finding the right bacteria for the lamp together with Dr. Jan Arends and ir. Kristof Verbeeck. "The system is a variation of the so-called Microbial Fuel Cell technology we developed at the Center for Microbial Ecology and Technology at Ghent University."

Feed the lamp

To emit light, the bacteria need food. The owner of the lamp should feed them one teaspoon of acetic acid every fortnight, which can simply be added to the bacterial fluid inside each of the four compartments of the lamp. With this small amount of nourishment, the lamp will work 24/7.

Van Dongen imagines that having to feed and thus take care of it could result in a closer relationship between the lamp and its user.

Once every few months the vessels should be cleaned out in the dishwasher. Refilling is a matter of filling it up with tap water, adding some salt and vitamins and again a teaspoon of acetate. The bacteria stay put in the electrode, waiting for the clean vessel to return.

Keep an Eye Grant

On 22 October 2016 Teresa van Dongen won the Keep an Eye Grant for Spark of Life. This grant aims to support promising artists and designers, in order to let them develop their work.

With this grant, Van Dongen wants to continue to develop Spark of Life into a consumer friendly product.

About Teresa van Dongen

Teresa van Dongen is a Dutch designer. Her work focuses on sustainable developments, drawing inspiration from nature and science. She works with light as a visual translation of her exploration into alternative and natural energy sources.


Spark of Life was made possible with the support of Creative Industries Fund and developed in collaboration with the Center for Microbial Ecology and Technology (CMET) at Ghent University. The Multilayered VITO CoRE® electrode was kindly supplied by VITO, the Flemish Institute for Technological Research.

With special thanks to Kristof Verbeeck, Jan Arends and Korneel Rabaey

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