Matthew Halpenny at the Digital Ecologies Conference 

July 28 & 29, 2022

Matt Halpenny exhibited his research-creation work "The Open Sourced Microbial Fuel Cell Project" at the Digital Ecologies in Practice Conference. The conference brings together scholars, researchers, designers, artists, and other practitioners from several disciplines and backgrounds to exhibit and explore practical and conceptual work concerning the digitisation of more-than-human worlds.

From July 28th to July 29th, 2022

The Open-Source Microbial Fuel Cell Project is an ongoing research-creation project towards the design of accessible microbial fuel cells (MFC), a technology that symbiotically harvests energy from microbial communities in mud and plant-soil ecologies. The project stems from an attempt to research and build MFCs in the author’s own interdisciplinary art practice. When it became apart there were little publicly available MFC resources, the project evolved from its origins as artistic research towards environmentally situated media installations to additionally document and distribute the author’s creation process for other artists and the general public. The Open-Source Microbial Fuel Cell Project decodes and pieces together fragmented resources and reforms them into a set of accessible resources focused on eliminating excessive scientific jargon and using commonly available materials.
This paper details how MFCs differ from other sustainable energy technologies by creating a bridge between the digital and the non-human in a symbiotic rather than extractive means. To harvest energy, one must either care for the cells, much like a garden, or situate the cells inside the microbe’s natural environment, such as using direct swamp based MFCs. The cells not only exist as a digital ecology of microbes and circuitry, but often are used within remote sensor-communication equipment by ecologists to avoid the need for human disruption collecting environmental data. Centered around the project’s open documentation and creation of resources, this paper examines the theoretical and material intersection of how these MFCs are simultaneously a digital ecology and a vessel for digital data ecologies.

Critical Practices in
Materials and Materiality