Bug Juice: Turning Roaches into Living Fuel Cells
Researchers implanted electrodes into cockroaches, turning them into electricity-producing fuel cells.
CREDIT: Acrocynus on Wikipedia.
Researchers have turned cockroaches into living, scurrying fuel cells by implanting them with electrodes. The scientists hope that eventually, insects can carry monitoring or messaging equipment that's powered by their own bodies.
Just as the food people eat is broken down into glucose in the blood to fuel the brain, cockroaches and other insects turn their food into a blood sugar called trelahose. The researchers created an anode a positive electrode that can break down trelahose into simpler sugars, releasing electrons that provide an electric current as they are pumped to the negative electrode, the cathode.
It takes chemicals that the insect produces when it feeds itself, said Daniel Scherson, a chemist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, who led the research. We're using these chemicals as fuel to convert chemical energy into electrical energy. The insects walked normally after their electrode implantation and appeared unharmed. Scherson and his colleagues tested their method in a mushroom, too, as mushrooms also have some trelahose; the mushroom produced some voltage. They published their findings Jan. 3 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
In this experiment, one cockroach could generate 0.2 volts of power at best, the equivalent of one-tenth of a AAA battery. That's enough electricity to send a message a distance of 2 inches, Scherson told InnovationNewsDaily, so there's nothing useful that this bug juice can do yet. However, he envisioned that insects might one day be outfitted with sensors and broadcasting equipment, then sent to areas with toxic gases. The bugs could measure toxicity in the area and send that information back to people.
Though it did not fund this research, the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is also interested in insect-generated electricity , which might allow them to equip insect spies with microphones and cameras.
One major challenge is the amount of power researchers can really draw from one bug. The insect has a finite amount of blood and therefore a finite amount of power, Scherson explained, so I cannot tell at the moment how far you can push this. Next, he plans to test how many fuel cells one cockroach can tolerate, in an attempt to draw more power from one insect. He will also hook up his living fuel cell to a radio circuit, to check if an insect can collect info and broadcast it using its own power.