“The best way to predict your future, is to create it”
Abraham Lincoln - (former) president of the United States of America
Not that we can claim to be anything like Abraham Lincoln, or even to be vampire hunters. Nonetheless, we do agree that to create the future we all hope for, we must contribute to find a sustainable solution for a greener future. Before we can tackle the task of providing a sustainable future for the entire world, we must first look to our own local environment. We believe that the best way to gain a better understanding of a global dilemma, is to examine how a local environment is affected by it. Hopefully, this approach will help future iGEM teams find a connection between global issues and local ones. This approach has helped us elucidate specific issues and find sustainable solutions, which can be implemented into our society with the help and endorsement of local agents.
A Statement from the Mayor of Odense
We first decided to reach out to the mayor of Odense, to investigate the possibilities for iGEM to help in the government's endeavours to make Odense a CO2 neutral city.
“We face a series of challenges that we have to recognise, in the chase of the good and sustainable life in the city of Odense. Some of these concern local circumstances, while others contain national and even global issues. We as the municipality can only go so far on our own. So, we are entirely dependent on the help of local agents. It makes me so happy, when the students of the city, have taken on the mantle of developing new green technologies that solves global issues, while contributing to local city growth”
The core philosophy of our Integrated Human Practices has been to incorporate local experts in the development of our project. We wanted to examine how results produced in the laboratory, could be used to shape a product that corresponds with the green values of Odense.
We sought the advice of experts in other fields, e.g. expert in plastics to design the best possible exterior of our device. Furthermore, we met with business developer Ann Zahle Andersen to investigate the core value of our product from a business perspective. We believe that Human Practices have played an essential role in our iGEM project. Everything from the design of our prototype to ethical considerations have been influenced by the people we engaged with.
Interviewing Smart City Odense
For the possible implementation of the PowerLeaf in the local environment of Odense, we decided to reach out to Kristina Dienhart, project manager of Smart City Odense. Smart City Odense is a project within Odense Municipality, that seeks to combine urban planning with new technologies and open-data toward creating a smarter, more sustainable city.
This made us aware of necessities essential to Odense and its citizens. She gave us feedback that we integrated into numerous areas of our overall project.
Changeability - From Mrs. Dienhart’s point of view, one of the most advantageous attributes of our device is the potential for changeability in the size and shape of the design. We had yet to consider the PowerLeaf as a device not limited by physical dimensions. This has been the most significant element we took with us from the interview. Changeability is a necessity to a city planner, as various laws and aesthetic considerations need to be taken into account, when altering or creating an urban environment.
Accessibility - She also discussed accessibility with us. The citizen will not use our device unless it is easily accessible. This means that the overall design of the PowerLeaf, regardless of its aesthetics, always needs to be designed with a user in mind. Reflecting on the advice of Mrs. Dienhart, we decided to reevaluate the means of implementation of the PowerLeaf to ensure that the need for accessibility and user-comfort is met.
Essentiality - She supported our notion if the needs for accessibility and changeability are met, the PowerLeaf could help ensure that citizens of Odense use and remain in the public space for a longer amount of time. Something that is valuable, not only to the individual citizen, but also to the community as a whole, as it creates a sense of city cohesion and hence a high quality of city life.
Mrs. Dienhart introduced us to several considerations that shaped large parts of our project. We do not know the needs of every urban area in Odense and consequently, we have aimed to create a device that is changeable to a city in movement such as Odense.
Furthermore, this interview was also a source of inspiration for our ethical and safety thoughts. While we ought to strive for a sustainable tomorrow, we do not necessarily have to provide an exhaustive description of what the future should look like.
Interviewing the City Renewal Project My Bolbro
Rikke Falgreen Mortensen is the manager of the Bolbro’s city renewal project called Mit Bolbro i.e. My Bolbro. We arranged a meeting with her with the intent of further investigating how the PowerLeaf could and should be integrated in an urban area of Odense, in this case the neighbourhood of Bolbro.
Bolbro is an old neighbourhood in Odense historically known to be the home of the working class. While Bolbro provides a homely atmosphere known to the locals, it has had a hard time attracting new residents. However, this is subject to change as the neighbourhood in 2016 received approximately 1.6 million US dollars to renew its city space and to create an even more appealing, and vibrant neighbourhood. This will be achieved by including the locals, as Bolbro is characterized by having a strong, engaging civil society. Mrs. Mortensen is not only an expert in urban renewal, but also in how to include local citizens in reshaping the public space in which they reside. Mrs. Mortensen also argued that a changeable design would be the optimal solution to fit the challenges one faces in creating a vibrant, green city ambience. Such a task depends on different preferences, laws and needs. A technology needs to be both flexible and accessible to successfully contribute to the process of creating an engaging city environment. She showed great interest in our device and even offered to implement it in the parks of Bolbro, should the product become a reality.
We had a discussion with Mrs. Mortensen about the creation of a prototype based on the wishes of Bolbro’s local citizens. Following this conversation, she provided us with a pitch that aimed to help us develop this prototype.
“Hauge’s square is a spot in Bolbro, which we aim to make a central place in Bolbro; a place that invites the citizen to meet and dwell. Your solution should be able to contribute to help citizens recharge their phones, e.g. a solution could be implanting the PowerLeaf into a interactive furniture, but where the demand an aesthetic pleasing design still remains.”
“A part of the vision of this project is the concept of making a pop-up park with differently designed multi-furniture, preferably in wood and organic design, which are removable to the various areas where we are going to develop in the district. It is furniture that should be able to be used to relax in and at the same time also motivates children to move. There is also a need for charging devices and it therefore demands that your solution is an integrated, but still mobile solution, as the park will move physically over time. Finally, the playground is to be developed especially for the young audience, which is a major consumer of power for phones. The playground must be a place where youngsters hang out after school, while maintaining its status as a green space.”
The making of the furniture as a prototype called for a revisit of our safety concerns. We now knew that children would be climbing and playing on the furniture, making it crucial that the material of the PowerLeaf will not break. This is a concern we discussed with Flemming Christiansen, which you can read all about next.
Finding the Proper Material
Criteria to the Prototype
The system itself will consist of two different compartments, an outer and an inner chamber. The first will be facing the sun, while the other will be facing the building or furniture. Since one culture of the bacteria depends on solar energy to produce its product, the outer compartment must allow for sunlight to pass. It should here be noted that the prototype is purely hypothetical, as the membrane, between the two compartments, should exclusively be permeable to cellulose. For that reason, we wanted to find a material, that fulfilled our established criteria, so that we could illustrate the technology.
The device itself will be made entirely from plastic, a material that is thought to be undesirable due to the difficulties in its disposal. This is due to plastic being of a xenobiotic nature, making it generally recalcitrant to microbial degradation Fewson CA. Biodegradation of xenobiotic and other persistent compounds: the causes of recalcitrance. Cell. 1988.. Following these concepts, we can identify the following set of criteria for the desired material:
Solar exposure. The material covering the solar cell, must allow sunlight to pass through to reach the bacteria.
UV resistance.As the material will be exposed to the sun, it must be resistant to the UV radiation.
Bacterial growth The material must neither be growth inhibitory, nor toxic to the bacteria.
Easy to mold. The outside of the device could be molded depending on the circumstances, as the device only relies on the bacterial technology.
Durability. The device will be located outside, meaning that the material must be able to withstand hard conditions and heavy weight.
Temperature. The material must allow for an appropriate constant temperature for the bacteria, despite the variations in sun exposure.
Longevity. We would like for the material to have as long a durability as possible, since replacing the device could prove cumbersome. We are aiming for at least twenty years of durability.
Price. We are looking for a material that is as cheap as possible, without sacrificing the necessary criteria.
Environmentally friendly.Considering the goal of this project being the creation of an environmentally friendly energy source, the ideal material would be as green as possible.
Interview with Flemming Christiansen
For the purpose of finding the necessary materials for our prototype, we contacted one of the leading plastic experts in Denmark, Flemming Christiansen , who acts as the market development manager of SP Moulding. He has been acting as a plastics consultant since his graduation as a master of science in Engineering, with a speciality in plastics. A meeting was quickly arranged for the purpose of confirming our criteria, the technical design, the material, and the possible price of creating the PowerLeaf.
In accordance with our established criteria, Mr. Christiansen suggested that we use the plastic known as Polycarbonate, specifically Lexon 103R-III Polycarbonate. Unfortunately, the material cannot fulfil the criteria on its own. He therefore suggested that we take a few liberties with it. In order to prevent UV degradation to the exposed parts, we will be adding certain additives to the surface. This increases the UV resistance of the device, without hindering the sunlight from reaching the bacteria.
During our conversations with Mr. Christiansen, we reached the topic of what to do in case of a breach. Should the container against all expectations be damaged, the environment will be exposed to the GMO inside. The solution we came up with was the possible implementation of a kill-switch in the inner compartment, making it vulnerable to sunlight. Should the bacteria of said unit be exposed to sunlight, they would perish. As the outer compartment would be dependent on the continued coexistence of the two units, the entire GMO system would be purged in case of a breach . To implement this feature, the inner chamber would be covered with Carbon Black, which has the ability to absorb sunlight, thus leaving the compartment itself in darkness.
The process of constructing our device would be through an extensive use of Injection Moulding, which is considered pricey equipment. The material is expensive at 4-5.5 USD per kg at orders above 1 metric ton, according to Mr. Christiansen, but its longevity and durability means it would not need to be replaced for a long time. Lastly, we discussed the reusability of Polycarbonate, which he assured us was of no concern, as the material could be reused and recycled with ease.
Click here to see a detailed version of the prototype.
This prototype was designed with Flemming Christiansens advice in mind.
The first compartment will have a dome shaped top, thus allowing sunlight to enter, while eliminating as many refractions as possible. A nourishment and wastes system will be implemented along the sides of the leafs as well as through the bottom.
Workshop with Business Developer Ann Zahle Andersen
For the purpose of getting a business perspective on our project, we met with Business Developer Ann Zahle Andersen. She arranged two workshops for us based on a business model canvas. She encouraged us to view our project, as if we meant to make startup business. These workshops gave us a better comprehension of society’s pull and pushes on a project like ours. This forced us as a team to get to the bottom of what we found important about our project.
Upcoming Meeting with Borgernes Hus
Borgernes Hus i.e. House of the Citizens is a new initiative offered by the City Central Library. The initiative aims to offer guidance and advice to projects such as ours. It is meant to aid Odense in its journey towards the status of becoming a modern Danish city. Unfortunately, the building remains under construction until after our trip to Boston, meaning that they have been busy with the construction while our project was underway. It is for this reason that we, along with director Jens Winther Bang Petersen, agreed that a future collaboration would be the most suitable solution.
It is our hope, that a collaboration with Borgernes Hus will be of assistance to future iGEM teams from SDU as well as other students from Odense.