There's been a lot of talk about the most eco-friendly ways to generate electric power. Everything from using human waste to getting bacteria to do the job for us has been discussed. But researchers from Japan's RIKEN Quantitative Biology Center (QBiC) may have just figured out the most natural way of getting electricity of all – straight from a fish known as an electric ray or torpedo fish.
In ancient Greece and Rome, according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, the shocks from torpedo fish used to be used to treat gout or headaches. While we've long since moved past that, it turns out that the ray might be able to help us out in another way.
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In experiments, RIKEN researchers first connected a live torpedo known as Narke japonica to an LED light via electrodes connected to the electricity-generating organs on the fish's ventral and dorsal side. They then pressed on the head of the ray to get it to send out electric pulses, and found that it put out enough juice to power the light for short bursts of time.
Next, the researchers hooked the torpedo up to a capacitor to see if they could store its electrical output. Sure enough, they were able to accumulate about 2 volts of power in the device, which was enough to power another LED light as well as an electric toy car.
Finally – and here's the part that might not make animal lovers very happy – the RIKEN team took the electric organs and their attendant nerve systems out of the rays completely. To stimulate them to produce power, they added an acetylcholine solution – a neurotransmitter – to the organ. They then connected multiple units containing the organs to create a serial circuit, which led them to be able to generate a maximum output of 1.5 volts.
Of course, no one is proposing hooking a bunch of torpedo fish up to a power generating station, but through these experiments, the researchers feel they've gained a better understanding of how it might be possible to generate clean electricity from a natural, chemical source. The rays create their charge by converting the coenzyme adenosine triphosphate (ATP) from glucose into electricity, and learning more about that process could help us accomplish the same thing one day.
"Our system can be a model for electric power generation systems using a biological generation method based on the ATP energy conversion system if electrocytes, electric organs or similar systems can be artificially created," conclude the researchers in a paper published on May 31 in the journal Scientific Reports.