Copper, Zinc and a Boiled Potato, Who Needs Batteries?

by Stuart Burns on June 25, 2010

Style:    Category: Green, Product Developments

Researchers at Yissum, Research Development Company Ltd., the technology transfer arm of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, have proved that it is possible to make solid organic electric batteries based upon treated potatoes. Who wants a potato battery you may say, well the answer is there are many parts of the world lacking an electrical infrastructure for which the cost of batteries or kerosene for lamps is prohibitively expensive. Cost analysis has shown the treated potato battery generates energy which is 5 to 50 times cheaper than commercially available 1.5volt D or Energizer E91 cells, and the light powered by this green battery is also 6 times more economical than kerosene lamps often used in the developing world.

Researchers from the Hebrew University worked with colleagues from the University of California at Berkeley to study the electrolytic processes in living matter for various applications, including the generation of energy for self powered implanted medical devices. In this application they found using zinc and copper electrodes coupled with potatoes created a current due to electrolysis but if the potato was first boiled the current was increased by up to 10 times. Researchers put this down to a reduction in the internal salt bridge in the potato.

In fact any vegetable will do. The attraction of potatoes is they are cheap, at 325 million tons per annum the world’s number one non-grain starch food and are grown in some 130 countries over a wide range of climates. Once used, they bio degrade quickly and unlike nickel cadmium batteries leave no hazardous elements behind.

Will we be seeing a potato battery in our local Walgreens anytime soon? No, probably not but anyone traveling in the more remote or disadvantaged parts of the developed world may indeed come across potato batteries in the future. Yissum has made the technology available free to economically disadvantaged parts of the world.

–Stuart Burns

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