3 Feb 2009
Coming Soon… Light Your Home With Dead Flies
With investment in research and development for renewables plummeting, and the much-hyped hydrogen economy in the doldrums, its about time we had a new improbable and unfeasible energy source to get excited about. I am an avid collector of such stories, from the termite gut enzyme powered cars to the mining of the moon for Helium 3. I was delighted to read, therefore, about the dead fly powered lamps soon to be all the rage, apparently.
It works, according to a piece I read in Metro, in the same way as a venus fly trap. The lamp is designed so as to attract flies to it, which it then traps (‘cunningly’ according to Metro, whatever that means). The dead flies are fed into a “microbial fuel cell” (I swear these people make these things up just to confuse me) which generates the power to power the lamp which will then go on to attract more flies, and so on and so on, like some gory perpetual energy nightmare.
This macabre device, which sounds more like something out of the novels of Angela Carter, has been brought to you by designers James Auger, Jimmy Loizeau and Aleksandar Zivanovic. These guys are also inventors of, among other essential household appliances, a robotic table which catches mice (see right). How I’ve longed for one of those. Gives terrifying visions of being chased around the kitchen by a table which has decided that mice are no longer adequately satiating, and that you look far tastier.
I remember, about 15 years ago, going into a department store in Bristol (anyone remember ‘Dingles’? The land that taste forgot) and asking the saleswomen in the clock department if they had solar powered alarm clocks, a question which was greeted with great hilarity. “How’s that going to work then?” one of them asked between giggling fits, as her colleagues gathered around to listen to this ridiculous man’s absurd suggestion.
“It’ll stop working at night… and then how’s it supposed to wake you up in the morning!!” They all fell about as I left the shop, moderately humiliated, but resolute in my belief that such a thing really did exist, just I didn’t know where to get one from. Unlike my solar alarm clock, now a fully functioning, widely available reality (unlike Dingles which closed down a few years ago), this has one key, and it would appear to me fatal, flaw.
In my house, I only really get flies in the summer. Since around October, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one. These are the months when one really needs light the most, what with the days being shorter and everything. A fly-powered lamp really isn’t especially practical. Whereas my solar powered alarm clock only needed to store energy overnight, a job most batteries are up to, it is the need for this clock to store its dead fly extracted power over entire seasons that puts it beyond the realms of the feasible for me.
Perhaps in an energy descent future we will be reduced, in order to keep our houses illuminated, to hunting for small mammals to feed to our home lighting systems, or maybe roadkill would suffice. As more and more of these unfeasible inventions, which usually fly in the face of practicality come and go, we are left to conclude that Ted Trainer was right, that the technologies that will get us through the next 20 years are all already here, we just need to accept their limitations and get on with it.