Generating Clean Electricity From Torpedo Rays

Scientists in Japan have developed a new type of electric generator inspired by electric rays.

AsianScientist (Jun. 6, 2016) – Inspired by electric rays, also known as torpedo, scientists in Japan have developed a new type of electric generator described in the journal Scientific Reports.

To reduce the use of conventional thermal and nuclear power, researchers have turned to biofuel cells such as glucose fuel cells and microbial fuel cells. However, the performance of these fuel cells remains inferior to conventional systems.

The torpedo has electric organs with densely-lined membrane proteins that convert the chemical energy of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) into ion transport energy, and a nervous system that controls the whole process.

Led by RIKEN Quantitative Biology Center unit leader Dr. Yo Tanaka, the researchers theorized that the principle used by the torpedo might be applied to making a power generator.

“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,” said Tanaka. “Using this pulse, we found that we were able to store enough electricity to light up an LED light or drive a toy car.”

Then, in an attempt to generate more electricity, they removed the electric organ from a torpedo and chemically stimulated it through a syringe. In doing so, they were able to achieve more than a minute of continuous current, with a peak voltage of 91 mV and a current of 0.25 mA.

“By increasing the number of syringes, we achieved a peak voltage of 1.5 V and a current of 0.64 mA. In addition, we found that it is possible to repeat power generation and keep the organ functional for up to one day,” he added.

By combining a fluid control device to control the stimulation as is done by the torpedo’s own nervous system, they were able to generate and store electricity with a peak voltage of 1.5 V and a current of 0.25 mA.

Tanaka says he hopes the research will be a first step towards a modern, ultra-clean electric power generator that uses ATP directly.


The article can be found at: Tanaka et al. (2016) An Electric Generator Using Living Torpedo Electric Organs Controlled by Fluid Pressure-based Alternative nervous Systems.

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Source: RIKEN; Photo: Tam Warner Minton/Flickr/CC.
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