Here are some good news: Researchers have discovered that a potato boiled for eight minutes made a battery that produced ten times the power of a raw one. Haim Rabinowitch, an agricultural science professor, and his team found that using small units made up of a quarter-slice of potato set between a copper cathode and a zinc anode connected by a wire can provide a room with LED-powered lighting for as long as forty days. A potato could supply power to personal electronics at around one-tenth the cost of a typical AA battery. Wow, just think of all the opportunities this could offer to people in the underdeveloped and remote regions of the world.
"Potatoes were chosen because of their availability all over including the tropics and sub-tropics," Rabinowitch told the Science and Development Network. "They are the worlds forth most abundant food crop.
While the potato itself is not the energy source, it helps conduct the electricity by acting as a salt-bridge between the two metals, allowing the electron current to move freely across the wire, creating the electricity. Besides being an abundant crop, the potato was chosen because of its sturdy starch tissue, which allows it to be stored for months without attracting insects. Boiling the potato breaks down the dense flesh so that electrons are able to flow more freely, creating more of an electrical output. The researchers also found that cutting the potato into four or five pieces made it even more efficient.
The potato battery kit includes two metal electrodes and alligator clips and is easy to assemble. Certain parts, such as the zinc cathode, can be inexpensively replaced. Alligator clips that transport the current carrying wires are attached to the electrodes and the negative and positive input points of the light bulb. Kerosene lamps used in many developing parts of the world are approximately six times the costs for equivalent lighting provided by the potato battery.
Despite the advantages of this new system, food-based energy systems are only able to work as long as they do not cut into the needed food supply and will not compete with the farmers who grow them for market. No commercial investors or non-profit organizations have stepped up in order to try to expand or distribute Rabinowitch's prototypes. It has also had a difficult time establishing a niche amongst the more well-known alternative energies such as solar and wind power, where the infrastructure and investments are most likely headed.
Thanks to its simplicity, the potato has been shown to be a durable and long-ranging crop and potentially striking new technological innovation:
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