25 June 2010 | EN
Generations of schoolchildren have used potatoes to produce an electric current
The holy grail of renewable energy research may lie in the cooking pot, according to scientists.
The search for a cheap source of electricity for remote, off-grid communities, has led to batteries that work on freshly boiled potatoes.
One slice of potato can generate 20 hours of light, and several slices could provide enough energy to power simple medical equipment and even a low-power computer, said a research team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.
"The technology is ready to go," co-researcher Haim Rabinowitch told SciDev.Net. "It should take an interested body only a short while, and very little investment, to make this available to communities in need."
The team, which described its work in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy earlier this month (7 June), said its work hinges on a recent discovery that the electrical flow from potatoes — long known to be natural electrolytes — can be enhanced tenfold when their cell membranes are deliberately ruptured by boiling.
To demonstrate, the researchers created a series of batteries out of slices of boiled Desiree potatoes about the size of a standard mobile phone, though they say the type and size of potato slice do not determine its power.
The device had the same basic components as conventional batteries, consisting of two electrodes separated by an electrolyte (the potato). Each battery powered a small light for 20 hours, after which a new slice could be inserted.
Potato batteries are estimated to generate energy at a cost of approximately US$9 per kilowatt hour (kW/h), which compares favourably with the best performing 1.5 volt (AA) alkaline cells — or D cells — which generate energy at US$50/kWh.
Banana and strawberry batteries could also be used, said Rabinowitch, but their softer tissues would weaken the structure of the battery and the sugars could attract insects.
"Potatoes were chosen because of their availability all over including the tropics and sub-tropics," he said. They are the world's fourth most abundant food crop."
Teo Sanchez, energy technology and policy advisor at Practical Action, a charity which promotes technology for development, said: "With half the world's population having no access to modern energy, this research is a valuable contribution to one of the biggest challenges in the world".
But he is concerned about the limited amount of power that individual batteries can generate and the possible implications of diverting a food crop into energy production.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh ( Nayudamma Centre for Development Alternatives | India )
28 June 2010
Boris Rubinsky ( University of California at Berkeley | United States of America )
6 July 2010
Agnes Becker ( Institute for Global Health, Imperial College London, UK | United Kingdom )
6 July 2010
musoke christopher ( MUST | Uganda )
19 August 2010
Arthur Makara ( Uganda )
13 January 2011
This is a marvellous invention, it should not merely be dismissed on the pretex of encroachment on food. It is s significant scientific find and can be modified or improved upon to a commercial value level using substitute sources of appropriate materials to avail energy rural communities. It should be encouraged!
Arthur Makara, Science Foundation for Livelihoods and Development, Kampala, Uganda
ironjustice ( Canada )
15 January 2011
Quote: Regions like western Uganda where potatoes rot due to the inability to transport them to urban areas in time for sale
Answer: "A solar crop dryer developed by a UNSW photovoltaic and solar energy engineering student has the potential to provide a living for thousands of people"
"It’s particularly great for women because they are the ones that sell foods through the local markets."
SteveK ( United States of America )
3 April 2011
There is a huge amount of cattail rhizome going to waste in Lake Chad. I doubt that this is the best way to use it, but it beats wasting it.
louandel ( Jacob Eco Energy Ltd | United Kingdom )
3 May 2011
I find it extraordinary that people should find this obvious move forward in renewable resources not only innovative and creative but also potentially effective to global community if it is taken seriously. All renewable resources were considered marginal and off-beat when they first came to being. Now they are part of our everyday lives. Give this the same respect.
elecsolar ( offgrid energy alternative technologies | Kenya )
29 March 2012
This is brilliant idea, so glad that soon the rural people will have clean cheap electricity thanks to LED discovery. i have also been working on a charcoal battery which have impressed me very much since am able to make none spill-able charcoal battery for portable use it lasts for many days. Women and children can make it when they need it and there is no need to switch it off after use .Thanks to these technologies
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