Moss Table FAQs Part 1

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Here are a few of the questions we get asked most frequently about the moss table:

What is the Moss Table?

The Moss Table is a concept product which demonstrates a potential future application of BPV technology.

What is BPV?

BPV stands for Bio-Photo-Voltaic. BPV devices generate electricity from light energy by exploiting the photosynthesis of living organisms such as cyanobacteria, moss, algae and vascular plants. More information about BPV technology has been published in Catalyst Magazine (Bombelli and Driver, 2011), and the Journal of Energy and Environmental Science (Bombelli et al, 2011; McCormick et al, 2011).

What does the Moss Table do?

The table incorporates an array of BPV devices which generate electricity. At present the energy generated by the table is not used to power anything. Instead an animation has been created which responds to the current output of the table. In this way people can ‘see’ the energy produced by the table as seen in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tw7JcOHNZlY&feature=g-all-lik

Does the moss power the lamp?

No, it cannot currently generate enough energy to power the lamp. BPV technology is at an early stage of development and there are significant technical hurdles to overcome before products like the table are commercially viable.

Does the moss power the digital chock?

Yes – It can power small devices like a digital clock using some of the units operating inside the Moss Table.

Why does the table incorporate a lamp?

The table is a concept product which demonstrates a potential future application of the technology. The idea behind the table is that energy generated during the day would be stored in a battery. In the evening this energy could be used to power a lamp.

How much energy is produced by the Moss Table?

Currently the table can produce about 520 Joules (J) of energy per day. A typical laptop requires about 25J per second, so in a day the table would produce enough energy to power a laptop for just 20 seconds!

Can the Moss Table deliver more energy in the future?

Currently, the moss generates about 50 milliwatts per square metre (mW/m2). Scientists anticipate that future devices may be able to generate up to 3W/m2 (Strik at al., 2011). Low-energy consumption laptops are being developed (e.g. the XO-1, manufactured by Quanta Computer) which could operate at as little as 1W, meaning that a plant-powered laptop could be possible in the future. In this futuristic scenario, the Moss Table could power a laptop for over 14 hours.

 

How does the Moss Table work?

Photosynthesis is a process by which plants and algae convert carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into organic compounds using energy from sunlight.  The plants use these organic compounds (like carbohydrates, proteins and lipids) to grow. When the moss photosynthesises it releases some of these organic compounds into the soil, which contains bacteria. The bacteria break down these organic compounds, which they need to survive, liberating by-products that include electrons. These electrons are captured by conductive fibres inside the Moss Table and put to use. In this way the devices harness energy which would otherwise be wasted. This is achieved using an array of 112 ‘moss pots’, which are bio-electrochemical devices. This means that they convert chemical energy into electrical energy using biological material. Each one generates a potential of about 0.4-0.6 volts (V) and a current of 5-10 microamps (µA).

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How can the efficiency be improved?

There are several possibilities including:

  • Increase the rate at which the moss excretes organic compounds into the soil.
  • Increase the rate at which the bacteria break down the organic compounds and produces electrons.
  • Improve the electrical connection with the bacteria.
  • Reduce the internal resistance of the device.

How long will the moss stay alive?

If the moss has access to water and light, it should continue to grow and generate energy. However, we have not yet conducted an experiment to measure the durability of the moss. We have had one device operating for 3 months quite happily.

Is the moss inside the table special?

No, the table uses many different types of moss. No experiments have yet been conducted to determine if some mosses work better than others. BPV devices can also be constructed using cyanobacteria, algae and vascular plants.

Who is researching BPV?

Research into BPV is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and is led by Professor Christopher Howe from the Department of Biochemistry, Professor Alison Smith from the Department of Plant Sciences and Doctor Adrian Fisher from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at Cambridge University; and Doctor Petra Cameron from Bath University.

Why was the Moss Table made?

The moss table was produced as part of a research project called “Design in Science”, which set out to explore how designers might be able to support scientific research. The purpose of the table is to:

  • Demonstrate through a familiar domestic object, that BPV technology has potential applications in our everyday lives.
  • Allow the scientists working on BPV technology to disseminate their research to a wide audience.

For more information on Design in Science, see “Design in science: Exploring how industrial designers can contribute to scientific research” (Driver, Peralta & Moultrie, 2012)

How big is the Moss table?

The moss table is 1 metre in diameter and 1.2 metres high.

What is the Moss Table made of?

The body of the table is made from ABS plastic. The lamp shade and top surface of the table are made of acrylic, as are the ‘moss pots’ inside the table. The pots include stainless steel connectors, carbon electrodes, soil, moss and water!

What are the bubbles behind the Moss Table?

This is an animation that provides a graphical representation of the current produced by the table. We created this animation to visualise the behaviour of the moss.

Can I buy the Moss Table?

The Moss Table is a concept product and was not originally designed to become a commercial product; however there are plans to design and develop commercial products incorporating biophotovoltaic technology. For example, a digital clock powered by moss is currently in development.

 

21 Responses to “Moss Table FAQs Part 1”

  1. Brilliant stuff, I really believe that micro-generation like this, coupled with low-power electronics is the best way forward for future technology. Does the process scale up? For example, could you plant a 10 acre forest and use the same method to generate large amounts?

    • Dear Steve,
      Many thanks for your comment and question.
      The Moss-Table and more generically the BPV project are at early stage of develop. For this reason I am not able to reply to your question of scalability right now. Nevertheless we are working to study the process with the aim to increase the performance. This will lead (we hope!) to develop a robust and economical feasible system for energy transduction. In this logic, scalability will follow.
      Paolo.

      • Paolo, there have been a number of groups studying the problem of cyanobacteria at Lake Atitlan, but no real solutions as yet. If you have time, the best person to contact would be Dr. Alberto Rivera Gutiérrez, in Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. He is working tirelessly for the good of the lake and is a scientist as well, and director of the Atitan Nature Reserve here. Hope you can help, as it’s a real problem that comes every year now and is poisoning the fish and the swimmers and the lake itself. AMSCLAE is a newly appointed government funded authority for the lake, but I don’t know if they are very well staffed or for how long. Dr. Gutierrez will know more.

        Thank you, Catherine Todd, AtitlanArts.com & LakeAtitlanDirectory.com

        Contact:

        Dr. Alberto Rivera Gutiérrez
        Comité coordinador for Todos por el Lago

        Atitlan Nature Reserve (Reserva Natural Atitlan)
        Finca San Buenaventura, Panajachel, Solola
        GUA (502) 7762-2564/65, (502) 5407-4493

        jaguariu(at)gmail.com, http://atitlanreserva.com/

        AMSCLAE: http://amsclae.gob.gt/2012/04/se-publica-reglamento-de-amsclae/

  2. have you considered using a myclium bed for the moss substrate? the constant moisture needed would reduce the resistance and if you’re using mycorrhizal fungi it would allow the system to transfer the necessary elements for growth much more efficiently. Can’t have a thriving ecosystem without the fungi😉.

    • Dear Kevon,
      thanks for your suggestion. Could you send a link and/or extra information about mycelium bed? Thanks.
      Paolo.

  3. What a wonderful project you are working on! I live at lovely Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, and we have a terrible problem with cyanobacteria in the lake. Perhaps something like this could solve two problems at once. Looking forward to your results in the near future… projects and people like you are going to save our world! Thank you so much for all you are doing. I have reposted this info in a number of places, and sent it to other scientists working here at Lake Atitlan and in Guatemala. Can’t wait to see what else you come up with! CatherineTodd2 at gmail dot com.

    • Dear Catherine,
      Many thanks for your message and support.
      I wish to do something for your like and the cyanobacterial blooming. Do you know any details about that cyanobacteria?
      Thanks,
      Paolo.

  4. Catherine, Please check this out http://www.saloy.net/docs/saloy%20engl%204%202%2010.pdf It’s a Finnish company with some new technology which will help with removing the toxins etc permanently.

  5. Dear Paolo,

    First of all, congratulations on the table!

    I’m an MA student in product design and I’ve dug through all the research behind this table as I am currently working on a project with moss myself.
    My project involves biophotovoltaics, but the focus lies on the moss’ oxygen production during photosynthesis. The data on oxygen in the research papers is limited. I was just wondering, if you happened to measure any oxygen output of your table? That would provide me with a great starting point for extrapolation…

    Thanks so much in advance for any information on this.

  6. Dear All,

    I am preparing a report on Milan 2012 for our design website (www.xymara.com) and would love to feature your table. Can you please give me a contact e-mail address to send you the photo I’d like to use for your approval? You can reach me on le-vin.chin@basf.com.

    Thanks and keep up the good work,

    Levin.

  7. I’m an editor at Frame Magazine. Are you able to contact me ASAP about this project on tracey@frameweb.com?

    Best regards,

    Tracey

  8. Hello there,

    I am a journalist from the LEAF Review ( http://www.globaltrademedia.com/products/leaf-review.html), a biannual magazine addressing the latest developments in global architecture.

    In our next issue, we would love to include the ‘Moss Table’ in our innovations section. If willing, would you be able to send across a high-res image to ross.davies@progresivedigitalmedia.com ASAP?

    Many thanks,

    Ross

  9. Hi, I´m writing an article about the moss table for a Brazilian magazine and I really need I few pictures in high resolution (300dpi) by this Friday (Aug,17). My e-mail is carolinabergiercardoso@gmail.com. Could you help me? Thank you so much and congratulations on the amazing project!

  10. Hi! I love the concept! Can you please tell me more about the plan to commercialise? This is what Japan needs!

  11. Do you have a link to the whitepaper? I would love to try and build a simple example at home. Mostly just need to know what the bill of material is for the electron collection.

  12. Hello inventors of Moss Table,

    I am very interested in your work. I would like to know how the components are made since I want to make one for research.

    Thank you,

    Tony

  13. How can I do this at home?

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