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I have a project about organisms that use ammonia as a solvent. The creatures live on such a cold world that chemical reactions are slow and inefficient. Due to the inefficiencies, the organisms move solvated electrons to generate an electric current.

Organisms generate their electric current by creating deposits of electrons on one side of their bodies, which causes the solvated electrons to move through long and twisted wire-like cells. Different organisms achieve this build up differently, but, in mobile organisms, it is usually via a process of short-circuiting prey or by inorganic electron sources. Organisms basically prey on each other by sapping the electric charge from other organisms.

These organisms also utilize magnetism and other electricity-related mechanisms. Before now, I had this idea to short circuit prey by physically spearing it with an organ and sapping its electric charge. At this point, I am instead exploring the mechanism of creatures creating a magnetic flux tube to ionize the air, directing the current between the hunter and prey without direct contact. Basically, the mechanism will sap electric charge from prey using glowing strands of plasma incased in magnetic flux tubes.

My question is: Could this flux tube thing work?

I'm not sure if the organisms would be able to generate strong enough flux tubes, and I'm also not sure if it could actually pull electrons from the prey organisms. For now, I don't want to consider how this function might naturally evolve, I am solely focused on whether or not it could be plausible.

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    $\begingroup$ There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. You can't "use that to make energy", because it takes energy to create "that" situation in the first place! Ionizing air is also pretty energy-intensive, and that doesn't sound like the sort of thing your beasties are going to be able to do, because you haven't provided a suitable power source. $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2022 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime dont actually mean making energy I just say it that way because I want to make this short and I dont want to go over the whole process of using the movement of electrons to create complex organic molecules from simpler ones. But yeah ik ionizing the air is pretty hard, but using when a high voltage and a magnetic field are present it shoudlnt be as hard to do it $\endgroup$
    – Kubo
    Nov 4, 2022 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ If a creature A has charge C1 and creature B has charge C2, and creature B shorts to A, then you will have resulting charge C3 = (C1+C2)/2 Such that if Creature B had high charge then A it would deplete its charge. To truly be able to extract from another they would need to have boost converters or similar. Boost converters require high speed switchers. $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2022 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ @GaultDrakkor I mean I guess they could have boost convertors, but I dont think they really need them since they just basically have a diode so the charge will flow only from the prey organism to the predator and not the other way $\endgroup$
    – Kubo
    Nov 4, 2022 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ I just recalled the more common description for what you are trying to create. A wireless charging pad working in reverse. AKA half a transformer. This will require the victims cooperation or some very vulnerable exploitable hardware. very unlikely. $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2022 at 23:25

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Organisms do this by creating build ups of electrons on one side of the body making the solvated electrons move through long and twisted wire like cells.

Separating electrons from their atoms and piling them up takes energy, which is in principle the same energy you get back once you let the build up dissipate (in practice you get less back because of losses).

What you are describing is the equivalent of trying to lift water from a well having the bucket lifted from the same water put into another bucket falling down.

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  • $\begingroup$ when electropositive metals dissolve in ammonia they drop off an electron which becomes solvated, it doesnt take almost any energy to do this. Thats why I choose ammonia as a solvent for these organisms. Also I probably didnt really make it clear enough, I was asking about the flux tube thing not about the rest, that was added just for context $\endgroup$
    – Kubo
    Nov 4, 2022 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Kubo which is fine if there's a sufficient supply of metal feedstock that hasn't otherwise been oxidized, but without a process to replenish it (which will require external energy) your ecosystem will die out when the last electron donor is used up. $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2022 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime okay so yeah there is a sufficient supply of metal, since even tho they dont get energy from actual foo they still need to absorb matter to get biomass, so metals get cycled in the ecosystem, they are also replenished by volcanism. Its a reducing environment so they do not get oxidized. The explanation for the high amount of metal on the surface is that a fairly long time ago a chunk of a super mercury smashed into the planet. So there is a lot of metals even tho the planet is a mostly icy planet. $\endgroup$
    – Kubo
    Nov 4, 2022 at 17:24
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Yes.

https://www.industrytap.com/electromagnetic-harvesters-free-lunch-or-theft/1805

Apparently this is the case. A farmer in Idaho had a barn located near high power lines and noticed that baling wire he kept in his barn was conducting small amounts of electricity. After some investigation he built induction coils and began to run his house off of it. Power company equipment detected the drain of energy and went to investigate. The farmer was arrested for using electricity from the power company without a meter.

Your organisms build the equivalent of this farmer's induction coils using flux tubes. By putting these tubes in proximity to their prey the tubes are charged by induction, sapping power from the prey organism. This is more parasitism than predation - like mistletoe sapping the sap from its host tree. But in a world of electrical organisms this could work.

some related musings: Possible mechanisms for life near absolute 0

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! this helps a lot $\endgroup$
    – Kubo
    Nov 6, 2022 at 19:46
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not convinced your prey has sufficent energy for an induction coil to leach off enough energy to support your predators. After all the prey has only as much energy flowing through it as it needs to survive, and your induction is going to steal only a small fraction of that so unless your 'prey' for some reason has significantly larger energy needs then the predator it doesn't seem the predator can steal enough to survive. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Nov 8, 2022 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ /After all the prey has only as much energy flowing through it as it needs to survive,/ @dsollen why would you assume this? What about the rainy day fund? I personally have considerable energy reserves on my person; much more than I need to survive at the moment; times change and I stay prepared. If electric creatures store their energy reserves by adding energy to their persistent current, there might be a lot more energy available than is being used at any given time. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Nov 8, 2022 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk Your energy reserves stored in chemical energy doesn't matter. Only the amount of electrical energy actually moving through your body at one time. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Nov 8, 2022 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen - agreed. And that is how electrical creatures could store their energy reserves. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Nov 8, 2022 at 18:56

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