And now for something completely different ... 

I spotted the Voltpot, a coffee table/charging station/indoor planter, late last week, but I sat on it a couple days, waiting for the whole idea to sink in. I considered blogging about a much more low-tech green product concept, a cardboard moving box that doubles as sturdy furniture for transient-types, but what the heck … why not feature the modern coffee table that triples as a planter and cell phone/iPod charger?


The microbial fuel cell technology (aka dirt power) incorporated into the design of the Voltpot — which by itself appears to be a nice piece of furniture — isn’t for amateurs, so I thought it best to let the designer, Shujoy Chakraborty of Nectar Product Development, describe it:


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 1 watt per cubic meter of soil. But under test conditions, 10 times that amount is possible using simple techniques such as nickel plating the terminals.
Phew. Okay … I’m getting the hang of it. Just a whole lot of science to take in. Chakraborty goes on to say:


There is a plethora of "Green" products lining up at markets today which appear green, but are in reality just a green aesthetic application and thus reduced to greenwashing. 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.


Pretty cool. I'm always on the lookout for designs that incorporate emerging technology with live greenery — stuff like the Andrea Air Purifier — and this certainly fits the bill, although I think it could do with a tad more tabletop space to make it more user-friendly. After all coffee tables are ultimately meant for placing books, magazines, household detritus, and um, coffee mugs, not for charging cell phones, right? What do you think? 


Via [Ecofriend]



Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

A charged-up coffee table
The Voltpot, a coffee table/charging station/indoor planter, uses microbial fuel cell technology to recharge your gizmos and gadgets.