University of Fribourg, along with researchers from the University of Michigan and University of California San Diego, have developed an electric eel-inspired device that produced 110 volts from gels filled with water, called hydrogels. The team led by Michael Mayer is in an effort to create a power source for future implantable technologies. The results show potential for a soft power source to draw on a biological system’s chemical energy.

Anirvan Guha, graduate student at the University of Fribourg’s Adolphe Merkle Institute, presented the research during the 62nd Biophysical Society Annual Meeting. Inspired by the electric eel’s ability to generate hundreds of volts, Guha and his colleagues stacked hydrogels full of varying strengths of salt water.

This photo depicts the printed, high voltage implementation of the artificial electric organ. A 3-D bioprinter was used to deposit arrays of gel precursor droplets onto plastic substrates, which were then cured with a UV light to convert them into solid gels. Alternating high-salinity and low-salinity gels (red and blue gels, respectively) were printed onto one substrate, and alternating cation-selective and anion-selective gels (green and yellow gels, respectively) were printed onto a second substrate. When overlaid, these gels connect to form a conductive pathway of 612 tetrameric gel cells that can be used to generate up to 110 volts. Image Credit: Anirvan Guha and Thomas Schroeder. Click image for the largest view.

Ions are charged atoms or molecules and when ions accumulate on either side of a cell membrane, they form an ion gradient. The researchers harvested energy from the electric potential, or voltage, across the ion gradients. As more hydrogels were stacked on top of each other, the greater the voltage increase. The researchers were able to produce up to 110 volts.

To stack the thousands of individual hydrogels necessary to generate over 100 volts, the researchers used a printer that “deposits little droplets of gel with the precision and spatial resolution to print an array of almost 2,500 gels on a sheet the size of a normal piece of printer paper,” Guha said.

The team’s next goal is to increase the current running through the hydrogel. “Right now, we’re in the range of tens to hundreds of microamperes [the basic unit for measuring an electrical current], which is too low to power most electronic devices,” Guha said.

In the future, the research team hopes their results will help develop power sources for implantable devices that can “utilize the [ion] gradients that already exist within the human body,” Guha said. “Then you may be able to create a battery which continuously recharges itself, because these ionic gradients are constantly being re-established within the body.”

This news does spark one’s curiosity as to far this technology will get to over time. Bio generation is well developed in the electric eel and humans have found a way to start catching up in ways that are interesting and encouraging. It looks like this story is getting going with real functioning technology.


Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind