Fish market (Image: Gregg_TLV)

We eat fish and throw away the scales. But now researchers have figured out a reason those fish scales might be worth saving.

Advertisement

A new paper out in Applied Physics Letters today details a method for transforming fish scales into an energy harvester. Researchers processed the raw scales to make them flexible and then attached two electrodes to each scale before laminating it. The resulting cell could then harvest energy from movement around it, including motion as simple as just vibrations or even a heartbeat. This has researchers suggesting that they could one day use it to power things like pacemakers.

“In the future, our goal is to implant a bio-piezoelectric nanogenerator into a heart for pacemaker devices, where it will continuously generate power from heartbeats for the device’s operation,” co-author of the paper Dipankar Mandal of Jadavpur University explained in a statement. “Then it will degrade when no longer needed.”

Advertisement

That particular application is fairly far off, but the research is an important reminder that there may be a better use for the incredible amount of food waste we’re generating—140 trillion calories every year in the US alone. A lot of that wasted food is readily-edible stuff that just gets tossed. But there are also inedible byproducts like fish scales and orange peels that could be put to productive use with a little creativity.

“The fish scale is available in large quantity in our society because it is basically bio-waste component and thrown away in food processing,” co-author Sujoy Kumar Ghosh told Gizmodo. To get the scales they used, the researchers simply collected them from a local fish market. Not only is figuring out how to use non-edible food waste for other purposes cost-effective, it gives us a way to use even the parts of food we don’t eat.

[Applied Physics Letters]