They may seem like the bottom of the food chain, but one day, the bacteria of the world could power our cities. Or at least, light them up. While science has long recognized the importance of these tiny organisms, retailers are now jumping on board as well. And if Parisian startup Glowee gets its way, the City of Lights may soon be dependent on bioluminescent bacteria to keep up its nickname.
Bioluminescence, one of nature’s great marvels, refers to the blue-green glow that some organisms (about 90 percent of all marine life, in fact) give off as the result of a chemical reaction. And in order to harness this light, Glowee founder Sandra Rey wants to trap the Aliivibrio fischeri bacterium within a transparent pack of nutrient gel, creating little pockets of light. And as the bacteria munches its way through the gel, it gives off that signature other-worldly light. “Our goal is to change the way we produce and use light,” said Glowee founder Sandra Rey. “We want to offer a global solution that will reduce the 19 percent of electricity used to produce light.”
Already, Rey’s team has come a long way in developing this innovative new lighting solution. In initial tests, the bacteria were only able to produce light for a few seconds, but after some edits to the gel’s consistency, Glowee has now produced lights that can function for three days.
Rey believes that this intersection of nature and technology could have major implications for the future of lighting, both in residential and commercial settings. Everything from retail windows to decorative lighting to city signs to safety lighting could be powered by these bacteria, and because Glowee doesn’t need any sort of electrical infrastructure to function, these lights can be implemented literally anywhere. Glowee capsules are comprised solely of organic resin about one centimeter thick, and can be molded into any shape or size to create fully customizable lighting fixtures.
Ultimately, Rey points out, nature has already given us the solutions to all our needs. “Now that we have the tools to copy them,” she says, “We can build far more sustainable processes and products.”