Eel-Inspired Three Dimensional (3D)-Printed Hydrogel Instantly Generates Electricity

Stackable/folding geometry of miniature polyacrylamide hydrogel compartments bounded by a repeating sequence of cation- and anion-selective hydrogel membranes (Source: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Spectrum, Tech Briefs TV).

Stackable/folding geometry of miniature polyacrylamide hydrogel compartments bounded by a repeating sequence of cation- and anion-selective hydrogel membranes (Source: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Spectrum, Tech Briefs TV).

January 14, 2019 | Source: TECH BRIEFS TV, techbriefs.com, IEEE spectrum, 23 March 2018

Inspired by the electric eel, researchers from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland have developed 3D-printed hydrogels that could generate up to 110 volts of electricity in an instant. The rows of gels contain positively and negatively charged ions that combine together to mimic the eel's cellular structure. Unlike typical batteries, these systems are soft, flexible, transparent, and potentially biocompatible. The researchers hope the system leads to a device that generates power from within the human body.


Nature Article Publication, An Electric-Eel-Inspired Soft Power Source from Stacked Hydrogels, 14 Dec 2017.

Abstract:  Progress towards the integration of technology into living organisms requires electrical power sources that are biocompatible, mechanically flexible, and able to harness the chemical energy available inside biological systems. Conventional batteries were not designed with these criteria in mind. The electric organ of the knifefish Electrophorus electricus (commonly known as the electric eel) is, however, an example of an electrical power source that operates within biological constraints while featuring power characteristics that include peak potential differences of 600 volts and currents of 1 ampere. Here we introduce an electric-eel-inspired power concept that uses gradients of ions between miniature polyacrylamide hydrogel compartments bounded by a repeating sequence of cation- and anion-selective hydrogel membranes. The system uses a scalable stacking or folding geometry that generates 110 volts at open circuit or 27 milliwatts per square metre per gel cell upon simultaneous, self-registered mechanical contact activation of thousands of gel compartments in series while circumventing power dissipation before contact. Unlike typical batteries, these systems are soft, flexible, transparent, and potentially biocompatible. These characteristics suggest that artificial electric organs could be used to power next-generation implant materials such as pacemakers, implantable sensors, or prosthetic devices in hybrids of living and non-living systems. 


YouTube Video, Hydrogel Paper Instantly Generates 110 Volts of Electricity, 23 Mar 2018.