Cockroach Fuel Cell: Our New Energy Frontier?

As if we didn’t have enough phobias about creepy crawly cockroaches, now they’re generating energy thanks to scientist Daniel Scherson and his colleagues. No, this is not preparation for a sci-fi movie where cockroach robots build a new society; it’s a quest for renewable energy wherever it may be. Scherson’s team inserted a miniature fuel cell into a living false death’s head cockroach—yes, that’s actually its name—that converts natural sugars from the cockroach and oxygen from the air into electricity.

To get technical for a moment, the implanted biofuel cell uses a sugar called trehalose from the cockroach itself, and oxygen from the air without impairing any of their functioning organs, according to the researchers. We can only surmise that it may be a bit uncomfortable. While it creates a less dramatic headline, the same process worked when scientists tried it with a shiitake mushroom.

Cockroach Fuel Cell Research

image via American Chemical Society

Now, Scherson’s team isn’t just a group of scientists gone astray. As they explain in their paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, this represents an advance toward a new source of electricity. Generating electricity from living organisms’ chemicals or movements could power microdevices for researchers or physicians to gather information on internal processes without using batteries. Most interestingly, generating electricity inside insects and animals could pave the way to someday power artificial organs, nanorobots, or personal electronics.

Before you start imagining what kind of iSomething Apple would produce with this technology, neither the mushroom nor cockroach produced a large amount of energy, so the technology might be limited to low-power devices or high-powered devices that operate intermittently.

While the potential is exciting, deep down, we’ve got to confess, we’re hoping they stick with mushrooms.

Angeli Duffin is a Midwest transplant currently living in San Francisco, CA. Kicking off her career doing product design and development with Fair Trade artisans around the world, she then moved on to the editorial side, writing for eBay’s Green Team blog and working as a marketing consultant for social and environmentally minded companies