Yale University researchers created a blueprint for artificial eel-like power cells. Their design is even more efficient and powerful than the natural one they’re mimicking, and could one day be used in powering small medical implants.
“The electric eel is very efficient at generating electricity,” said Jian Xu, a postdoctoral associate in Yale’s Department of Chemical Engineering. “It can generate more electricity than a lot of electrical devices.”
Xu has built the first blueprint showing how the electrocyte’s ion channels work towards producing the electricity while he was a graduate student. He worked with the former Yale assistant professor of mechanical engineering David LaVan, who works now at NIST.
LaVan and Xu have designed an artificial cell that could replicate the eel’s energy production. The energy comes from a chemical source, the eel’s food. They even found out that their artificial design is 28% more efficient than the natural system in the electrocyte.
The eel normally produces about 600V using several thousands of electrocytes, but our scientists only have smaller dreams: they want to produce energy enough to sustain small medical devices such as pacemakers or retinal implants.
An actual working artificial eel has not been built, because they didn’t yet figure out how to “feed” the system. They only have an idea, that would resemble the natural way of “powering” the eel’s ion channels, by using glucose and bacteria to transfer the energy within the cell.
It’s clear that you won’t soon hear that an electric car is being powered by eel-inspired technology, but the main advantage of this type of chemical battery in medical purposes usage is that if it breaks, “there are no toxins released into your system. It would be just like any other cell in your body.”, says Xu.
I wouldn’t be surprised if after 10 years from the time they will practically use this eel-powered thing, scientists would come up with an idea to turn your fingers or other organs into electricity outlets, powering your small electronic devices. Do you think that could be possible?
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