Potatoes May Power The Batteries Of The Future

Oh, batteries. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. It sounds like a power ballad, but it's the story of our lives around here. We've been dealing with lofty promises and batteries that kick the bucket far too early, for years now.  And the fact that we're still dealing with lead-acid batteries is sort of a baffling thing to wrap one's mind around. But all of that just might be changing. We won't get our hopes too high until fuel cells become the viable alternative that we have been told that they are, but we strangely have more faith in a vegetable than a science lab to revolutionize the battery.

A vegetable? Yes, indeed. Yissum Research Development Company Ltd., the technology transfer arm of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has just introduced what they're calling "solid organic electric battery based upon treated potatoes." In short, it's a potato powered battery, and it's as real as you're hoping it is. The simple, sustainable, robust device can potentially provide an immediate inexpensive solution to electricity needs in parts of the world lacking electrical infrastructure, but we're hoping that it can work a similar amount of magic for developed nations as well.

Researchers at the Hebrew University discovered that the enhanced salt bridge capability of treated potato tubers can generate electricity through means readily available in the developing world. This cheap, easy to use green power source could substantially improve the quality of life of 1.6 billion people, comprising 32% of the developing non-OECD populations, currently lacking access to electrical infrastructure. Such a source can provide important needs, such as lighting, telecommunication, and information transfer.

The technical details are below, but here's all you really need to know: potatoes may be a battery of the future and it's a significant advancement that we all can be proud of.

Prof. Haim D. Rabinowitch from the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment and the research student Alex Golberg from the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the Hebrew University, jointly with Prof. Boris Rubinsky at the University of California at Berkeley, study the electrolytic process in living matter for use in various applications, including the generation of electric energy for self-powered implanted medical electronic devices. In their research, they discovered a new way to construct an efficient battery using zinc and copper electrodes and a slice of your everyday potato. The scientists discovered that the simple action of boiling the potato prior to use in electrolysis, increases electric power up to 10 fold over the untreated potato and enables the battery to work for days and even weeks. The scientific basis of the finding is related to the reduction in the internal salt bridge resistance of the potato battery, which is exactly how engineers are trying to optimize the performance of conventional batteries. The ability to produce and utilize low power electricity was demonstrated by LEDs powered by treated potato batteries.

Cost analyses showed that the treated potato battery generates energy, which is five to 50 folds cheaper than commercially available 1.5 Volt D cells and Energizer E91 cells, respectively. The clean light powered by this green battery is also at least 6 times more economical than kerosene lamps often used in the developing world.

Thus, the boiled potato or other similarly treated vegetables could provide an immediate, environmental friendly and inexpensive solution to many of the low power energy needs in areas of the world lacking access to electrical infrastructure. The long-keeping humble potatoes in particular are a good energy source since they are produced in 130 countries over a wide range of climates, from temperate zones to the subtropics- more than any other crop worldwide, but corn, and thus available year round almost anywhere.

The potato is the world’s number one non-grain starch food commodity, with production reaching a record 325 million tons in 2007. Potato consumption is expanding strongly in developing countries, which now account for more than half of the global harvest and where the potato’s ease of cultivation and high energy content have made it a valuable cash crop for millions of farmers.

Tags:  Battery, Energy, Power, potato