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Electric Eel Power, Data and Water

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Point 1. Ironically, given the nature of the English climate, bits of the country are currently in drought. It has long been known that this recurring problem could be solved with a national water grid, to move water from wet places to dry places.

Point 2. Electricity is expensive and we may not be making enough and, if we are not very careful, we will wind up buying it from the French. The thought of French electrons flowing through the untarnished copper hearts of great English cables is unthinkable.

I suggest that we kill two birds with one cliché, and that we do so using electric eels.

First, we lay a network of pipes connecting dry places to wet places, as per the aforementioned plan. Cunningly, we make these pipes of plastic. The pipes will need to be about four or five inches in diameter, so perhaps bundles of parallel pipes will be required.

Next, we fill the pipes end to end with electric eels. Obviously, the eels will not completely fill the width of the pipe.

Now, electric eels have ribbon-like fins along their backs, which they are wont to waft in a sinuous way. A single fin may not do a great deal of wafting, but the combined wafting of 1000 metre-long eels per kilometre of pipe will almost undoubtedly, propel water along the pipe at a respectable speed.

The bonus, of course, is the electrical power. A single eel produces a discharge of about 1J per shock (that is, about 500W for a couple of milliseconds), and a healthy eel can manage shocks in quite quick succession. Conservatively, well-trained eels might produce one shock every ten seconds on average, giving a mean power output of about 100mW. From this, it follows that a 100km section of eel- filled pipe will have a power output of 10kW.

Assuming that the National Water Grid covers about the same total distance as the motorways, this gives 4000km of eel-filled pipe. As noted, the pipes would probably be needed in bundles to convey sufficient water, so we can assume perhaps 50,000km of pipe in total, accommodating some 50,000,000 metre-long eels. The total power output of such a system will be a respectable 5MW.

There are a few problems to address, to be sure. First, we have to persuade the eels to deliver shocks. However, my guess is that an electric eel is likely to shock in response to being shocked. Hence, there is a very good chance that, by startling the eel at one end of a pipe, all the eels downstream would deliver consecutive shocks. All that is needed is some sort of return electrode to complete the circuit, and the system will continuously self trigger. Alternatively, of course, the first eel could be startled by some sort of telegraphic signal, producing a combined power-and-data system.

It will also be important to feed the eels. However, they are not fussy eaters, and minced food waste pumped into the inlet of each pipe will suffice. As a bonus, the water emerging at the other end will be rich in eel-crap, which is one of nature's finest fertilizers. It will also be necessary to introduce large slugs of air into the pipes from time to time, since the eels are (inconveniently) air-breathers.

MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 04 2012


       Eelectric Grid
AusCan531, Jul 04 2012

       Indeed. I should perhaps also have mentioned the importance of ensuring that all the eels in one pipe are facing in the same direction.   

       I have just consulted the intercalary, who confirms that electric eels will shock in response to being shocked. Fortunately, adult electric eels are not seriously harmed by being shocked, which is just as well. When a bicker of electric eels assembles to mate, it often happens that one eel will be startled by a predator (or will take the opportunity to stun a prey fish), triggering a cascade of shocks.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 04 2012

       Is this what they mean by "streaming data"?
hippo, Jul 05 2012

       //Ironically, given the nature of the English climate, bits of the country are currently in drought.//   

       Are they _still_ saying it's a drought? How many months of constant downpour do we need before they concede that it is actually the right sort of rain?
Loris, Jul 05 2012

       I think most of the hosepipe bans are lifted, but there are still some areas where they're in force.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 05 2012

xenzag, Jul 05 2012

       Umm, good one [xenzag]
AusCan531, Jul 05 2012

       // How many months of constant downpour do we need before they concede that it is actually the right sort of rain? //   

       Until wales is completely submerged ('tis a consummation devoutly to be wished).
8th of 7, Jul 05 2012

       // since the eels are (inconveniently) air-breathers.//   

       Can you back that up? To the best of my knowledge they are a typical gilled fish.
MechE, Jul 05 2012

       England would be submerged before Wales in that scenario, [MB].
nineteenthly, Jul 05 2012

       //Can you back that up?// No, but Wikipedia on Electric Eel can. They gulp air every so often, and must do so.   

       //England would be submerged before Wales// Yes, but anyone with the foresight to have inherited a village on the high ground would be fine.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 05 2012

       Whoops, yeah, missed that. Just means the pipes can't be run completely full.
MechE, Jul 05 2012

       Alert the mathematicians! the "three utilities problem" is solved without graph theory.
4whom, Jul 09 2012

       Did I mention the Joule heating of the water also?
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 09 2012

       At the risk of detracting from this idea's 'bakeriness, could not the eel components be removed and a conduit of cultured or perhaps even artificial electrocytic cells be used instead?
Alterother, Jul 09 2012

       //could not the eel components be removed //   

       They could, but the problem then would be that you wouldn't have any eels, you see.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jul 10 2012


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