School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape

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Making the best out of your waste; project lead by Newcastle University is awarded grant from the EU Innovation Fund

Professor Rachel Armstrong and Dr Rolf Hughes from the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape will project-manage the Active Living Infrastructure: Controlled Environment (ALICE) project which uses Microbial Fuel Cells (MFC) to transform liquid waste into useable outputs (polished water, oxygen, electricity, biomass).

Newcastle University, The University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and Translating Nature have been awarded 99,970 euro from the EU Innovation Fund to develop the Active Living Infrastructure: Controlled Environment (ALICE) project (grant agreement no. 851246). This mobile environment uses Microbial Fuel Cells (MFC) to transform liquid waste (urine, grey water) into useable outputs (polished water, oxygen, electricity, biomass).

Building on the demonstrable success of UWE Bristol’s “Pee-Power” that is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as the 'Urine-tricity' project, and the proposed functionality of the EU funded H2020 FET-Open “Living Architecture” (LIAR) project[1], a public-facing digital interface that reveals the performance of the interior metabolism of the innovatively designed cubicle will be the focus of ALICE. The novel interactive interface will feature real-time data-driven graphical animations which enable a wide audience to “converse” and relate to the transformation of “waste” products into useable resources by bioreactor processes.

Participants will also be able to see how their waste 'enlivens' the cabin's performance by, for example, turning on LEDs, or charging small mobile devices. Conceptually, ALICE may be likened to the 'tamagotchi pet', a digital toy that flourishes through the owner's digital care and attention. In this way, 'care' for ALICE is through its feeding and engagement with audiences, so that ALICE can continue cleaning up the environment .

Creating a useable context and habitat that can be exhibited at biennales or festivals and explored by these audiences, ALICE catalyses a conversation about the future of sustainability in homes and public buildings, as well as the lifestyle changes implicit in adopting this new generation of utilities. Through this highly personal experience 'users' of ALICE may understand how waste can be dealt with differently in the home by putting it to good use. The system will also collect data that will help the innovators better understand the performance and potential usage of such a system outside the laboratory space so that ultimately, appropriate market prototypes can be developed.

The long-term goal for this innovation is to develop spaces that optimise our use of resources so that we may one day dispose of the notion of “waste” and through the infrastructures that animate our spaces, develop a nurturing relationship with our environment.

[1] Living Architecture is funded by the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under EU Grant Agreement no. 686585, it brings together experts from the universities of Newcastle, UK; the West of England (UWE Bristol); Trento, Italy; the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid; LIQUIFER Systems Group, Vienna, Austria; and Explora, Venice, Italy.

ALICE project visual
A graphical visual display of the bacterial "inner life" of ALICE

published on: 12 March 2019