Posting in Energy
Can organisms be used as a source of biofuel?
The view of many is that snails are either something to eat, something you accidentally squash underfoot, or a pest to keep at bay by pouring lines of salt in front of your garden flowers. However, a team of researchers at Ben-Gurion University, Israel, envision a potentially different future for your garden pest.
How about using a gastropod as a source of fuel?
The study, 'Implanted Biofuel Cell Operating in a Living Snail' has been published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. As grim as it may sound, and as Chemistry World pointed out, by using the kind of technology suggested in the film The Matrix, the researchers managed to implant a biofuel cell into a living land snail in order to generate electricity.
Each cell is made from carbon nanotude 'paper', modified with enzymes that produce sugar. As the snail fed or relaxed, some of the glucose generated found its way into the fuel cell -- therefore generating an electrical output.
The 'electric' snail was able to continually renew these glucose levels consumed by biocatalytic electrodes, and maintain this kind of energy generation for long periods of time.
By using such a small organism, the maximum power output achieved from the biofuel cells was only 7.45µW, so even for a low-consumption device it would take a substantial amount of snails to power.
However, the point of the research was not to see if giant snail-cell farms could provide energy needs. Instead, the research has shown that it is possible to implant and power future medical devices that could perform tasks such as delivering drugs or monitoring diseases -- where electricity is generated by the 'host' itself rather than an external source.
Implantable biofuel cells have been suggested as a means to sustainably power devices operating in living organisms, but there are few examples currently available, especially in the cases of abiotic and enzyme-based biofuel cells operating in animals.
The team reports that the snail with the implanted biofuel cell was able to continue living naturally without detrimental effects caused by the implant, and the success of this experiment shows there may be a way to power electrical devices through a 'host' in the future.
(via: Chemistry World)
Image credit: Virginie Moerenhout
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Mar 15, 2012
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I can just see PETA jumping up and down about these poor defenseless little snails being harmed in some way or another. Kind of makes me sick.....
this kind of research wouldnt be so contentious. I mean [i]breeding[/i] snails to use as a power source, quoted as being too small to be of any real use... Whats the point? The money and thought would be better aimed at growing a biological battery based on lower life redesigned to do the job, and also less likely to upset the fanatics and animal-lovers - The research is going ahead anyway, as is artificially sequenced life. The technology to print nanostructures to grow the cells in is here, now, why are they still poking wires into animals?
Now that would be an advancement: getting something of value out of'm. As for the snail -- Eats, shoots and leaves in an EV.
It says in the article [i]"...some of the glucose generated found its way into the fuel cell ??? therefore generating an electrical output."[/i] So, if I understand this right, then this is an invention that could help diabetics. Place some of that nanostuff in a diabetic's nose and he/she can power their iPod by eating candy. Great!
My first thought, even before I read the article was that it sounded like the way the machines harvested energy in The Matrix. But after reading the piece, and realizing we all generate electricity to live, the idea of using our own built-in power to run our own "accessories" is a breakthrough. It would be great to see electronic implants not requiring invasive surgery to simply change out a battery.
So does this mean that in the future we could have a basment full of snails, rather than a roof full of solar panels. The thought of living of the lives of other creatures makes humans sound like leaches, although in monitary terms I suppose there are already plenty out there.
OK people, to keep you from having to read it over again, here's your answer taken from the article: "However, the point of the research was not to see if giant snail-cell farms could provide energy needs. Instead, the research has shown that it is possible to implant and power future medical devices that could perform tasks such as delivering drugs or monitoring diseases ??? where electricity is generated by the ???host??? itself rather than an external source."
I'm not taken in by the matrix thing either, I did say battery. My point was that if they are going to do any research into using living tissue to generate electricity - be it for powering a city or a medical device - it'd best be based on artificially designed cells for ethical as well as technical reasons, biocompatibility and efficiency being two that spring to mind. I have no problem with sticking electrodes into people (they can bitch if it sparks) but animal research is getting old rather fast. I probably wasnt very clear there, thanks for pointing it out.