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.
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.