Ecotopia: Shujoy Chakraborty “VOLTPOT”
Voltpot is a product idea constructed on the promising technology of Microbial Fuel Cells (MFC’s). I have designed a family of 4 products which are domestic appliances to be applied to everyday lifestyle activities.
The fundamental underpinning of my idea of addressing sustainability is to use a state of the art technological innovation and then support it with an emotionally captivating design approach. The core competency of any well designed product ie: high performance, ease of use, beauty, superior technology should not be compromised ever under the guise of making them more sustainable. Consumers well never accept such a shortsighted compromise and a Product Opportunity Gap will be lost.
The very basis of my investigation has been to identify a core technology which will be the backbone upon which these products will thrive. The current state of the art of MFC technology is quite promising. There are research units distributed across many universities pushing this novel technology. Delivering ‘Energy off the grid’ is the most important breakthrough which design must support.
As opposed to a chemical battery, a Microbial Fuel Cell uses the metabolic of energy of microbes present inside soil samples & convert it directly to electrical energy to generate low intensity, but a continuous output of energy. The basic construction revolves around making an anode and a cathode soil chambers, just like a conventional battery. The metabolic energy of the microbes is in the form of an ion charge which is captured by the anode terminal and passed on to the ‘ion bridge’ – sort of like a membrane. The ion bridge transfers this charge to the cathode terminal from which point this charge is captured in the form of electricity to be utilized by an external load or stored inside a capacitor. At the moment the output achievable is 1watt per cubic meter of soil. But under test conditions 10 times that amount is possible using simple techniques such as nickel plating the terminals.
There is a plethora of ‘Green’ products lining up markets today which appear green, but are in reality just a green aesthetic application and thus reduced to green washing. Sustainability is more than skin deep, and the core architecture of products we design today has to be rethought with new technological paradigms in mind and new design paradigms to support and ultimately reinforce sustainability.
Voltpot addresses sustainability as a hidden but a strong asset of these products none the less. Using the MFC’s these products can deliver energy to fulfill various lifestyle functionalities, thus making it so pleasurable for the user to use that he/she will buy it solely because they desire the product and thus indirectly end up embracing a sustainable lifestyle. Sustainability has to be chic, it has to be cool, and most of all it has to make every other mainstream competition appear as a poor compromise in comparison.