Artificial gills Science

Do Artificial Gills Exist?


An artificial gill is a device humans could theoretically use to extract oxygen from water for breathing. Such a device would be invaluable since your air supply would be virtually unlimited.

Unlike rebreathers and tanks which eventually run out of air, scuba divers wearing an artificial gill device could emulate fish and stay underwater potentially forever. Does such an invention exist, and if not, is anyone working on it?

Do Artificial Gills Exist?

Currently, artificial gills are still in realm of science fiction. While a few companies are working on making them a reality, they are still in the very early stages of development.

Artificial GillsOne of the biggest problems is size. Most animals which filter oxygen from water are cold blooded and have a lower metabolism. Because humans are warm blooded and have a high metabolism, much more oxygen is needed. This means that with our current technology, an artificial gill device which could extract the required oxygen for a single person to breath would be huge – the size of a bus or larger.

This problem is amplified thanks to sea water only containing 7 ppm of oxygen. As a result of this low concentration, 1,000 tonnes of sea water holds only 14 lbs. of O2. Since an average diver needs 1 quart of oxygen per minute, you would need 51 gallons of sea water per minute to pass through the ‘gills’.

Other Applications?

An Israeli company, Like-A-Fish, is currently working on making this process more efficient which would allow for smaller devices. In 2006, they begun testing a prototype. Potential applications for a device would be submarines and underwater habitats where size would be less of an issue.artificial gill

Like-A-Fish’s prototype uses a high-speed centrifuge to lower the pressure of seawater in a sealed chamber. This method lets the air in the water escape back into a gaseous state – much the same way carbon dioxide is released from a soda when you open it. This liberates the O2 which is stored in an airbag for use.

This device has its own drawbacks however, as it relies on battery power which eventually runs out. It also would encounter problems in polluted water and anoxic “dead zones” which are areas in water where available O2 are substantially lower.

Sources:
Lakshmi Sandhana (2006-01-31). “Inventor develops ‘artificial gills’“. BBC News.
Knafelc, ME. “Oxygen Consumption Rate of Operational Underwater Swimmers.“. United States Navy Experimental Diving Unit Technical Report NEDU-1-89.
Le Page, Michael (2007-01-06). “Breathing in oceans full of air“. New Scientist.


2 Comments on Do Artificial Gills Exist?

  1. jurim sabillo

    I thought the James Bond film featuring 007 using a underwater breather device is something of a real thing… It was so small that it was just attached to his mouth like part of a snorkel thing. A little bit of technology that still on its way out of development. The search is on, and we are waiting for it.

  2. Mish

    I came here researching after I was told a story by my mate’s dad who was an experimental diver in the 70s. If it is to be believed, then artificial gills do exist and who knows in what capacity. In the story, a colleague of my mate’s dad had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and so signed up for this “one way trip” style experiment. They gave him a series of operations and inserted actual gills upon his body. The story goes that this kid swam about, underwater with no other breathing aid for a couple of hours, then died. My mate says she’s seen documentation and evidence which proves this at her dad’s house. I will be looking for this myself. This guy also states that they have had liquid oxygen (like in “The Abyss”) for donkey’s years.

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