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Electric rays could inspire high-efficiency ultra-clean generators of the future

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Posted June 5, 2016

Some animals have very interesting defence mechanisms, such as producing electric shocks. Now scientists from the RIKEN Quantitative Biology Center in Japan managed to harvest this ability from the electric rays. They removed electric organs and stimulated them to achieve a peak voltage of 1.5 V and a current of 0.64mA.

Electric rays are scary in the ocean, but could help developing modern high-efficiency power generators. Image credit: Peter Southwood via Wikimedia, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Electric rays are scary in the ocean, but could help developing modern high-efficiency power generators. Image credit: Peter Southwood via Wikimedia, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Scientists say that this is important as new sources of electricity are an international concern. There are interesting efforts in a shape of glucose fuel cells and microbial fuel cells, but none of them seem to be satisfactory. However, there are other interesting electric sources in nature.

Scientists are beginning to work on a new type of electric generator, based on electric rays, known as torpedoes. They have special electric organs, featuring densely-aligned membrane proteins. They convert chemical energy or adenosine triphosphate into ion transport energy, while central nervous system controls entire process. Because shocks of these electric rays have been known to paralyze or stun people, it is clear that they convert chemical energy into electric one with high efficiency.

Yo Tanaka, the leader of the research, said: When we used physical stimulation of a live torpedo, we detected less than 10 milliseconds of pulse current with a peak voltage 19 V and current of 8 A in the electrical response. Using this pulse, we found that we were able to store enough electricity to light up LED light or drive a toy car”.

However, using live fish in a generator is not an option. Therefore, scientists removed electric organs in attempts to generate more electricity by chemical stimulation. They injected them with a solution of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine though a syringe, which allowed them to achieve a peak voltage of 91 mV and 0.25 mA of current for more than a minute. Furthermore, by increasing the number of syringes used, scientists managed to achieve a peak voltage of 1.5 V and a current of 0.64mA. Obviously, these organs do not last forever – scientists could only use them for up to a day.

Scientists hope that this research will become a beginning of something big. They see that in the future they could be developing a high-efficiency power generator that uses adenosine triphosphate for a chemical reaction. This would result in an ultra-clean electric power generator. It proves once again that humanity still has a lot to learn from nature – it has been inspiration for many great achievements already.

Source: RIKEN

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