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Biofuels robobug

Published on January 9th, 2012 | by Nick Bentley

5

Tiny Biofuel Cell Turns Insects into OH MY GOD RUN FOR YOUR LIVES

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January 9th, 2012 by  

While biofuel stories often fill me with gimlet-eyed suspicion, I’ve now and then said to myself: if only we could mount lasers on insects and then somehow power those lasers with electricity generated from their own blood, THAT would be a biofuel application I can get behind.

Well, consider me behind it because now it almost exists. They haven’t gotten to the lasers yet (and probably won’t, because the laser idea is my pipe dream), but researchers at Case Western Reserve have developed a tiny bug-implantable biofuel cell that uses enzymes to convert the chemical energy in insect blood-sugars into electricity. The electricity can be used to power electronics, like sensors, to turn bugs into spies or first-responders, or to hold all of humanity hostage for a ransom of ONE MEEELLION DOLLARS.

For those who’d like to know something about how it’s done rather than just bask in the glorious dystopian implications, I’ll dirty my fingers with a three-sentence summary:

The system uses two enzymes: The first breaks a sugar, trehalose, into two simpler sugars. The second oxidizes them, which releases electrons. Max power density was close to 100 microwatts per square centimeter at 0.2 volts and max current density was ~450 microamps per square centimeter, if that means anything to you.

This is good news for me because it annoys me when a bug buzzes around my head and it’s got a dirty combustion engine on it.

Now, when our technology turns against us and a weaponized grub army destroys us all, at least their emissions will be low.

This is still lab bench technology, so who knows what will ultimately become of it. I hope that the researchers can adapt their reaction so that I can run my laptop off my fat.

P.S. for those baffled by what the bug in the pic is saying, I commend you for not having spent the last decade mindlessly surfing the web, and also read this.

Image via nickwheeleroz

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About the Author

Nick Bentley is a Climate Change activist, Neurobiologist, and Tom Jones Appreciator. His ignorance is encyclopedic.



  • Krusty

    The Matrix prophecy.

  • douglas prince

    i kin has cheezburger?

  • guest

    As far as I understood your short description of the mechanism, the second enzyme oxidizes the simple sugar, which releases electrons. In order to have some kind of electricity (volts) those electrons have to flow some where in an ordered fashion (cable?) without interaction with potential protons ….
    Since I am not aware of cabeled bugs it still sound like a nice joke…
    I would like to suggest to those researchers to use this energy with fluorescent proteins, that can actually produce light from oxidized sugars, and put all these bugs in a big shiny bag to light my back yard :-)

  • Guest

    Why dumb it down with the mention of not knowing what the bug is saying? If people don’t know, screw them.

    • http://nickbentley.posterous.com/ Nick Bentley

      Good point. I shouldn’t have done that.

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