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Aquarium Uses Eel Powered Christmas Lights 96

A Japanese aquarium is using the greenest energy possible to power the lights on its Christmas tree, an electric eel. From the article: "Each time the eel moves, two aluminum panels gather enough electricity to light up the 2-meter (6 ft 6 in) tall tree, decked out in white, in glowing intermittent flashes."


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Aquarium Uses Eel Powered Christmas Lights

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  • I want my Eel powered batteries now.
  • Solar is the greenest energy available, hands down. Although I doubt using the sun to provide light would interest many people.

    "Wow, an eel-powered christmas tree!"

    "You think that's cool, imagine this: A giant ball of hydrogen millions of degrees in temperature constantly undergoing fusion sustains all life on Earth from 93 million miles away! And it will last for billions of years, at almost no cost! Although unfortunately output is subject to seasonal fluctuations."

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 02, 2010 @12:50PM (#34418824)

      Solar is the greenest energy available, hands down.

      Not if the solar cells require a lot of toxic chemicals and energy for the manufacture process...

      • That's only if you want to convert form of the solar energy. As the poster indicated, this is about producing light, and plenty of the solar energy we receive is already in that form and needs no toxic chemicals or energy to convert.
        • So, you would hold and release light without conversion how, exactly?
          • Who said anything about hold and release?
            • So, you would hold and release light without conversion how, exactly?

              Who said anything about hold and release?

    're advocating lights that only work while the sun is shining, is that it?

              I think they call that a 'mirror'.

              • Mirrors and fibre-optic are exactly what I was thinking of. And of course, the sun is always shining somewhere (although I grant that making use of that fact would involve a significant initial expenditure of energy).
                • Mirrors and fibre-optic are exactly what I was thinking of. And of course, the sun is always shining somewhere (although I grant that making use of that fact would involve a significant initial expenditure of energy).

                  Okay, so which would you prefer,

                  a) a network of unbroken 3,500 mile long fibre optic cables along the surface (1/8 of the circumference of the earth, assuming you'll only need light for half of your nighttime hours and can get it from the east or the west...and you'd need one cable from each direction for morning and evening light, of course), or

                  b) the (slightly shorter, but much more difficult to manage and maintain) 3,030 mi 'direct' route, by boring directly through the crust, along the 45 degree chord t

      • by Nadaka ( 224565 )

        photovoltaic cells are just a bad idea for energy production anyway. Solar thermal generation as a lot fewer issues. We can build daylight solar thermal without any exotic materials, using the same turbines and generators used in other power infrastructure. 24/7 solar thermal requires an added complication of thermal mass, but again that is vastly better than photovoltaics.

        • by Eudial ( 590661 )

          Basic thermodynamics begs to differ. Thermal energy has very high entropy, therefore converting it to electricity (which has low entropy) is never going to be an efficient process.

          • by ross.w ( 87751 )

            But if you are using abundant solar energy to produce that thermal energy, the efficiency doesn't matter so much.

          • by Nadaka ( 224565 )

            A concentrating collect + steam turbine + generator is still generally more efficient than all but the more exotic photovoltaic cells in terms of area used. And storing a heat mass in a well insulated underground reservoir is a lot more efficient than battery storage or electrolysis for supplying power during night and bad weather.

      • Close, but not quite. It really comes down to what offsets what. If throughout the life of the solar panel, does it product enough renewable energy to offset the pollution from creating the solar panel to begin with? If the answer is "yes", then it's not much of an environmental issue... if at all.

      • Look at your TV, now back to me; Satellites run on solar power. Look out the window; now back to me; Plants run on solar power. Look at yourself, now back to me; We all depend on solar power in some form, solar is the original and greenest power. I ride to work on a horse.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Clearly posted by someone who knows nothing of how solar power actually works. It's the greenest energy available, discounting the creating of the cells, their disposal, the incredibly low efficiency, inability to be used in all but select locals, terribly high expense to return ratio... other than that they are the bees knees.

      OP also missed the point of the article, which was clearly a cheap advertisement for this particular shop. The article poster turning into a slashvertisment complete with misleading

    • No, I'm going to have to disagree with you there. I'm going to have to go with Broccoli on this one. I don't know how often it is you look at the sun, but I took a gander just this morning, and it wasn't green. It hasn't been green for as long as I've been aware of it.

      Now Broccoli on the other hand, is quite green. Its also a source of energy. However, it doesn't really taste the best, I imagine thats why Republicans are so against green power.

    • Solar is the greenest energy available, hands down. Although I doubt using the sun to provide light would interest many people.

      You mean like a skylight? I hear they're quite popular.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 02, 2010 @12:41PM (#34418648)

    Of course, it is not practical. Sometimes practicality needs to be shoved out of the way because impractical is half the fun. In this case it's the idea and the wonder of whether or not it could be done. They've shown it can be done regardless of how practical it may be. I, for one, rejoice in this sort of tinkering and proof.

    • i don't question the practicality. I admire the fun in it. I do question labeling this as environmentally friendly and green. Resources are consumed keeping that eel alive. The filters are plugged into ac power. food has to be raised and brought to the eel. the eel probably needs the water heated to about 86f. The eel probably needs full spectrum lighting. It's about as environmentally friendly as running your christmas tree off of D cell batteries.

      the article is pretty terse. if it's part of a broader d
      • i forgot some other byproducts of eel generated power. Methane, Amonia. Some yucky sludge.
      • What math needs to be done is if the current being used for the tree is normally "waste" current.

        the eel is going to discharge the current anyway so if this is not being "used" then using it for a tree does no harm to said eel.

        anybody have the math on how much current on average that type of eel produces??

        • by xyra132 ( 615021 )
          iirc the most recorded for an electric eel was about 600volts and a bit over 1 amp. Wikipedia claims 500v, 1amp produced through a series of cells each producing 0.15v. Of course this discharge is pretty short, each pulse being incredibly quick. Not sure on electric eels, but electric catfish can only discharge once every hour or so as it takes time for them to charge up again.
      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        I suspect the claims of green may be a bit tongue in cheek.

  • Can these electric eels power it too?
    • Not only does your user name really fit this thread, but an electric eel powered hovercraft has to be one of the top 3 coolest things I've heard of this week.

    • Can these electric eels power it too?

      Only if they are shrieking eels* - then you can be really eco friendly by getting two memes for the price of one.

      (*as referenced in that nice respectable fantasy movie we all love. Not the top hit on Google at the moment which is distinctly NSFW. Ick!)

  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't they "draining power" from the eel through induction, not unlike the way you can steel power from high-voltage power lines? That power has to come from somewhere. Does the eel have to speed up it's metabolism to compensate?
    • by ( 6530 )

      my question exactly. eating more and creating more "greenhouse gas".

      the other one is "Each time the eel moves, two aluminum panels gather enough electricity to light up..." each time it moves? at all? blinks? (dunno if eels blink)

    • I think the eel would find that the water between the plates is "thicker" or "closer" or however it interprets more resistance. The eel doesn't have to speed up its metabolism, but it will tire out sooner. It simply won't swim as far/long as it did before.
    • by AxemRed ( 755470 )
      I'm not sure if the eel has to speed up its metabolism, but it does have to maintain it which takes food. When you consider the resources spent in taking care of the eel and farming/catching its food, I'm not sure if eel-power really turns out to be greener in the end. But it's amusing anyway.
  • This is a shocking abuse of power by these researchers. We demand that it cease immediately.


  • Feedback (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dtmos ( 447842 ) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @12:55PM (#34418932)

    ... so if the eel is in sight of the tree, and is photophobic (or -philic), can one set up an oscillation in which eel movement causes light which causes more movement, making the tree lights flash at a substantially constant rate?

  • No-eel (Score:5, Funny)

    by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Thursday December 02, 2010 @12:58PM (#34418968)
    No-eel, No-eel, No-eel, Noooo-eeeeeel!

    Born is the light powered by my eel.
  • by alta ( 1263 )

    I'm sure PETA is going to have a cow. You know they're not just about EATING animals. Ethical Treatment and all!!! Is it ETHICAL to STEAL energy from an eel without asking it first?!

    Hell, they're not happy you even HAVE an eel. Much less are forcing it to move around so you can harvest it's energy.

    I can see a bunch of naked protesters between aluminum panels trying to power lightbulbs now.

    • I don't like it myself. And everybody on Slashdot will slam me for caring about the treatment of an eel... right up until the day they figure out how to harvest energy from humans like in the Matrix and then you're the eel.
      • You're an idiot. 1) Please explain to me the ethical implications of using the electricity generated by eels already living in captivity, as opposed to simply keeping them captive. 2) This is a gimmick. It is not a practical source of power, the same way that wiring up humans is not a practical source of power, because the processing of food into heat and electricity by the human body necessarily introduces significant energy loss. You'd be better off just burning the food. Please try again when you under
    • If we could draw power from PETA ("ethical treatment") members, I'm all for it. If it is the "eating tasty animals" people, then of course they are going to have a cow. Beef, it's what's for dinner, but eel is pretty tasty too. You won't see them protesting this event though.
      • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )
        You can draw power from PETA members. All you need is a giant treadmill or hamster wheel, a PETA member on the wheel, and a very hungry rottweiler on a chain behind them.
    • I'm sure PETA is going to have a cow.

      I doubt it - maybe they'll have some tofu or a nice stuffed pepper.

    • How many PETA members does it take to change a lightbulb?

      Doesn't matter, PETA can't change a damned thing.
    • I can see a bunch of naked protesters between aluminum panels trying to power lightbulbs now.

      That. Would. Be. AWESOME!

    • by treeves ( 963993 )

      That's nothing: come New Year's Day, the Japanese will probably eat the eel.

    • I can see a bunch of naked protesters between aluminum panels trying to power lightbulbs now.

      When we tried that, the bulbs did not light, but was that the protest?

  • I think I remember seeing this done at the Vancouver Aquarium about forty years ago. They used small neon lamps, which could be coupled directly to the tank voltage without burning out. It was an elegant approach, requiring few components. Neon lamps work equally well with AC or DC. The eel isn't being stimulated to discharge lethal amounts of electricity, but even small muscle movements will occasionally produce enough voltage to make the lamps flicker.

    I've wondered how well LED lamps could be adapte
  • by shadowrat ( 1069614 ) on Thursday December 02, 2010 @01:37PM (#34419702)
    I've had exotic fish (and reptiles, etc). They all require specific environments maintained at the right temperature. The water requires filtration. Often they require special lighting. You have to feed them. None of that stuff comes for free. I don't think you can make a closed energy loop out of an eel.
    • Exactly. Considering how much energy is used to support the eel, its conversion efficiency is likely very, very low.
      • The point you guys are missing is that its an aquarium - its powering the eel regardless if the eel is powering the lights or not.


        Why not?

        • Haha, you're right. If the eel is "wasting" energy then I guess they can harvest some of it. But it's not really applicable beyond the aquarium setting.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I don't think you can make a closed energy loop out of an eel.

      This Crazy Glue says you are wrong.

    • by ksandom ( 718283 )
      I was also wondering what state the eel is in. Like how much ability it has to move? If at all? The article doesn't seem to say. Athough it sounds like the electrodes are directly in contact with the eel, so I imagine they must be transmitting the power directly via a cable to the tree..? That mustn't be fun for the eel. I wonder what it feels like. If the electricity is being disipated in a way it's not meant to, it could be quite uncomfortable. Having said that, maybe eels spend their life in pain, and th
  • Put the eel back in the river or ocean. Shut down the aquarium. Turn off the lights. That would be green. This isn't.

  • Let me know when they achieve an output sufficient to power something larger, like a hovercraft. I would certainly make use of it there.
  • My aquarium is full of eels!

  • Of course there was no video available in TFA, so I went and searched for it.

    Here's a 2007 version: []

  • If they cross genetics from a eel to a jellyfish, you've got a water-bound Metroid. Leave it up to the Japanese to pull this one off.

  • How much power does it take to keep an eel alive in a tank 24/7 so that visitors can see some lights flicker a few hours a day?

    And if the notoriety attracts more visitors, don't they just end up causing more resources to be used in the building?

    I bet this thing has a carbon footprint like a Hummer.

    • maybe we could harness the power of the point, sailing WAY over your head
      • by blair1q ( 305137 )

        Putting a piezoelectric footpad under the visitors would generate a lot more energy output with a lot less carbon output.

        (If you ever think I'm missing the point, you're missing the big picture. I'm talking fucking Guernica, here.)

        • the exhzibit is about raising awareness, to encourage outside-the-box thinking with regards to alternative energy.. not about powering the world with captive eels.
          • by blair1q ( 305137 )

            That's fine, but it's not the "greenest energy possible", in fact, it's nasty energy camouflaged as green just because it comes from a living thing.

            Now, if they ran the wires to the stream where the eel normally lives, that would be green.

            • headlines and press pandering aside... its meant to be a muse, not an idea..

              I have doubts that damming streams is good for the environment.. it dries up wetlands, and wets drylands..

              I get your line of thinking, I think we just seen a different purpose in this exhibit.
              • by blair1q ( 305137 )

                I see the purpose in the exhibit. I just don't see a purpose in characterizing it as the greenest energy possible when it's nearly the opposite.

  • My name is Morpheus, I hold in my hands a Red pill and a blue pill.....

Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them. -- Bill Vaughn