Let's Find Out If Using Electric Eels To Charge Your Tesla Is A Good Idea
8/06/2019 Jason Torchinsky (ht2 David Tracy)
CBS Electric Eel Lights Up Christmas Tree
Electric Eel Powers Christmas Tree
For decades, the dream of motorists all over the world has been a car that
could run on frothy buckets of cheap, garbage fish like tilapia or
something. So far, though, that dream has eluded humankind. But now, thanks
to the rise of modern electric cars, perhaps it’s possible with the
intermediary help of electric eels. So let’s take a moment to really think
this through: How well can you recharge an electric car using eels?
What I’m envisioning here is a sort of range-extender system. Certainly
electric eels aren’t going to replace the EV’s battery simply because
they’re animals (Electrophorus electricus, and it’s technically a knifefish,
in case anyone asks) and as animals they’re not really able to provide
constant, uninterrupted energy like a battery can, despite what The Matrix
wants you to think.
But you actually can harness the electrical energy from an electric eel.
Scientists have already figured out how to harness eel-tricity to power
things. Here’s a video of an eel in a tank powering lights on a Christmas
...and what the hell, here’s another:
So, we know it’s possible to harvest the electrical power from eels to power
other things. Now we just have to figure out if it’s actually a good idea
beyond a delightful, adorable one.
For the sake of this thought-experiment, let’s figure out how much
range-extending power you could get by, say, towing a range-extending tank
of electric eels, connected to your car’s charging port.
For our example car, let’s use a Tesla Model 3. For reference, when you’re
charging your Model 3 from a normal, everyday, American-spec 120V/ 15 amp
wall outlet, Tesla says that you should be able to get between three and
five miles of range per hour, with 120 volts and a 12 actual charging amps.
Okay, so 120 volts times 12 amps comes to 1,440 watts, which, let’s say for
the purposes of this, gives you four miles of range for an hour of charging.
Now, an adult electric eel can provide a jolt of up to 800 volts at one amp,
but I’ve found more sources that say that 600 volts is more common. These
jolts of power only last a moment, so we’re getting 600 watts, but for a
very, very limited time.
Now, how often can an eel provide these shocks? And exactly how long do they
last? These answers were surprisingly difficult to find, so I reached out to
an expert: Dr. Jason Gallant, an assistant professor at Michigan State
University’s Department of Integrative Biology.
Dr. Gallant has done extensive research into electric fish of all sorts, and
told me he’s the second person people reach out to when these sorts of
electric eel questions come up. To find my answer, he looked to a paper [
] published by the first person most reach out to, Dr. Kenneth Catania.
Dr.Catania’s amazing paper measured the power transfer to a human during an
electric eel’s leap-and-attack. Basically, the man had juvenile eels
shocking his own arm, over and over.
Dr. Catania’s paper used small, juvenile eels that generated smaller bursts
of energy, but Dr.Gallant confirmed that the 600V/1 amp burst from an adult
eel was indeed accurate, so I’m going to stick with the bigger numbers.
Dr. Gallant, basing his rough numbers on Dr.Catania’s research, felt that an
adult eel could provide about 50 pulses of electricity over the course of
half a second, which gives us a duration per pulse of one hundredth of a
second (0.01 seconds). However, Dr.Gallant felt it would be unreasonable to
expect the eel to provide 100 pulses per second, so we’ll stick with 50
pulses per second as our number, letting the extra half-second factor in for
Okay, so now we know how much power an eel can provide, and for how long, so
let’s try to figure out how much range an eel shock can give your Tesla’s
battery. If a normal wall outlet can give four miles over the course of an
hour, how much range will it provide in one second? To figure that out,
let’s divide four miles by 3,600, the number of seconds in an hour:
Okay, so we know that there’s 5,280 feet in a mile, which means that
0.001111 miles is about 5.86 feet, which let’s just round up to six feet.
So, one second of normal, U.S.-voltage wall charging at 1,440 watts gets you
six feet of added range.
Now, for our eels: we can get a jolt of 600 watts from an eel, but only for
one hundredth of a second, and we can get up to 50 of these pulses per
second. With each eel giving 50 pulses of 0.01 seconds, then we could use
two to get a full second of electricity. At 600 watts, that would take 2.4
times to equal the wall outlet’s 1,440 watts.
And that means if 1,440 watts give four miles per hour and 5.85 feet per
second, then we can reasonably expect—since the charging rates seem pretty
linear, that our 600 watts will give us 2.44 feet per second of
That’s about 146 feet per minute, and 8,784 feet per hour, or about 1.66
miles per hour of eel-charging.
Remember, this is all assuming constant eel electrical output, which, as we
stated, isn’t going to happen from one eel. If you want to insure constant
output, and based on our experts’ findings that suggest we’d need to have
two eels for just one second of continuous power, then it’s clear we’ll need
a lot more eels.
But it gets even worse, especially if you’re an eel: Dr. Catania’s research
required him to agitate and/or scare the eels so they’d attack with their
electrical shock. That means we’re going to have to keep scaring and/or
agitating these poor eels to get power from them.
They also shock to stun prey to eat, so we can use power generated by
feeding them as well, which we’ll have to do anyway, since no energy is free
and they need to eat to keep being able to produce electricity.
So, we have to keep these eels constantly scared and/or eating. And we need
to keep them in water, of course. I found that an adult eel needs a
200-gallon tank, so let’s just push these boundaries a bit and cram, oh, ten
adult eels in each 200-gallon tank.
We’ll make these 10 eel/200-gallon tanks our base modular unit, and have an
integrated food tank full of doomed fish and shrimp for the eels to eat, and
an integrated LCD monitor with speakers that will be used to display
terrifying video clips to the eels to keep them in a constant state of fear
I’m not proud of this, but I think it’s the only way this can work at all.
I’m also not sure what sorts of videos scare eels. Human arms grabbing?
Harpoons? Exploratory short films of eels realizing the meaningless of their
lives? I guess we’ll just try a variety of things and see what works.
Okay, so, if we need two eels for one second of continuous power, that means
we’ll need 120 eels for one minute of continuous power, and that means we’ll
need 60 times 120 eels for one full hour of power, which comes to, um, 7,200
That’s a lot of eels.
I suppose you could do it with many less, if you were willing to work the
eels a lot harder, but the truth is that all the constant shocking would
exhaust them pretty quickly. With 7,200 eels, eels only have to give their
50-pulse burst of electricity once an hour, which seems to be sustainable
long-term. Maybe you could cut the number in half and be okay, with eels
shocking every 30 minutes? I was just playing it safe here.
If we’re going to use our 10-eel modular agitation/feeding tank, we’ll need
720 of those, and the weight of 200 gallons water in each tank would weigh
as much as my old VW Beetle: 1,670 pounds, and we’ll need 720 of those,
which is 144,000 gallons of water, which comes to 1.2 million pounds of just
That’s a bit more trailer weight than I think most Tesla Model 3s are
approved to tow. And keep in mind that all of that—all 7,200 eels and 720
tanks and all the feed fish and monitors and all that crap (the weight of
which I didn’t even factor in here) will only give you, at best, about 1.6
miles of extra range per hour.
For many EV buyers, that’s not ideal.
My guess is the weight and aero impact of pulling that colossal
aquarium-trailer will negate a sizable majority of the benefits to having
on-the-go eel charging for your car. Maybe even all the benefits, if I’m
gonna stick my neck out here.
Even without doing that last bit of math, I feel pretty comfortable in
leaping to this conclusion: Charging your electric car with the harnessed
electrical energy of eels is a terrible idea, and a slippery one.
Now, maybe if they were just stationary charging tanks, not mobile range
extenders, and you had tons and tons of live fish and shrimp to get rid of,
then, you know, maybe this makes sense.
Maybe. But not really. Sorry to break it to you.
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