Snails Plundered For Power—What Next?

When we heard that a cockroach had been implanted with a operating fuel cell, we thought nothing more creepy, futuristic and sci-fi fantasy was possible.

But animal-energy research might just be beginning. Researchers at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., recently announced that they successfully implanted an operational fuel cell into live snails that create electricity using the snail’s naturally produced glucose. When the snails naturally eat and then relax, they continue to produce glucose which is consumed by biocatalytic electrodes to produce electricity, making the snail—now a biotechnological device—into a source of renewable bioenergy.

snail fuel cell

image via Clarkson University

The snails can produce 7.45 microwatts (a microwatt is one-millionth of a watt) and only for 45 minutes. After that the power they produce decreases 80 percent. For continuous power, wattage has to be ramped down to 0.16 microwatts. The tiny power increments raise further challenges to a technology that may also cause an uproar among animals rights activists if ever implemented on a large scale.

But the research team, led by Clarkson University Professor Evgeny Katz, claims the snails can live happily with the implanted biofuel cell in a natural environment.

“The animals are quite fit—they eat, drink and crawl. We take care to keep them alive and happy,” Katz told Nature magazine. Still the project raises a hosts of ethical questions that may also require a whole new set of regulations on using live animals in energy production.

Shifra Mincer is a freelance journalist and passionate tweeter (@Shiframincer) currently living in Israel. Before moving to Israel to apprentice with a homebirth midwife, Shifra worked as Associate Editor of AOL Energy, and was a member of the launch team that got the site up and running. Shifra has over a half a decade of experience in journalism and has written on women's health, green technology, politics and regulation of the energy industry, energy financial news, and local news. While studying for her B.A. at Harvard College, Shifra worked as a news editor for the Harvard Crimson. Shifra is also a yoga teacher and a birth doula and is hoping to create an active Jewish birth community through her web venture www.layda.org.

    • Pfiddle

      I still worry about using animals in any wat to produce some product humans want. It’ll lead to exploitation -somehow. It’s not so long ago that whales were considered fit only for the oil they produced by “civilised” countries.
      There are so manta other ways we can produce electricity why annoy animals.?