Skills: Fabrication | Illustrator | Energy  | Experience Design | BioTech

Summary: Time Flies is a microbial fuel cell that powers an analog clock by using the carcasses of insects as a fuel source for the geobacter in the fuel cell. I used live Madagascar hissing cockroaches and crickets to enhance the experience.

Project Background: Set the context for the project. What was the goal of the project? What were your constraints? What was the timeline?

Team and your role: This was an individual project

The Work: I decided to build a Microbial fuel cell (MFC) using bugs as fuel to power an analog clock. I've come across some conceptual ideas of using MFCs using flies, mice, and even poop. It really struck me as a cool idea that I wanted to expand on and learn the intricacies of building an MFC. I've come to find out that the field of research regarding MFCs is sill very new which gives much room to experiment and explore. There is not a real net science and I like the flexibility which that affords. I began by getting bugs form and they were nice enough to send me crickets, mealworms, and Madagascar hissing cockroaches at no charge! I then proceeded to buy acrylic to build the enclosure from Canal Plastics. All other material was purchased at Home Depot Materials used:

  • 12x24 3/16 inch clear Acrylic Sheets - 3 units
  • 12x12 3/16 inch clear Acrylic Sheets - 4 units
  • Silicone Glue
  • Acrylic Glue
  • 3 hinges
  • 3 long 2 x 11/16 inch slabs of acrylic for the MFC
  •  1/4 inch threaded metal rod
  • Titanium wire
  • Copper Wire
  • Nafion Proton Exchange Membrane
  • Clear 1/4 inch hose
  • 3 syringes
  • 2 packs of yellow plastic gloves
  • zip ties
  • Analog clock
  • 3 white plastic plumbing tubes
  • Wing nuts
  • Microbial septic tank cleaner
  • Fuel Cell Grade Graphite Bipolar Plate 5mm, 4x4

I began by making the enclosure from the acrylic sheets purchased and laser cutting the holes for the hands and syringes. Single sheet prepped for laser cutter. I used acrylic glue to bond the sides of the container together. After the container was set with the top, I emptied the container of crickets and Madagascar Hissing cockroaches into the container.

The hardest part was building the actual fuel cell. I used planks of acrylic which were further refined and cut using the CNC. Creating the pits for the acrylic was cool but also terrifying as one acrylic shard broke up and was sent flying out in the shop. Luckily no one was hurt, but it was too close of a call.

I built a two chamber MFC using a graphite carbon plate which I cut to fit into the MFC. I also purchased a Nafion Membrane which allows for only positive ions to make the transfer from the Anode chamber over to the cathode chamber where oxidation occurs and water is made.

The membrane between the Anode and Cathode chamber required some manual drilling to hold the Nafion sheet in place in addition to allowing space for the protons to travel.



I began by making the enclosure from the acrylic sheets purchased and laser cutting the holes for the hands and syringes.

Go deep to show what you produced. Research, sketches, wireframes, mocks, and a link to working site or application if possible.

Success Metrics: Why are you showing me this project? Do you have any results that show this project achieved its intended goal?

What You Would Have Done Differently: Based on the process and outcome is there anything you learned you would have done differently? This is a great way to show growth and introspection.