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Earth Power Hardware

Potato-Powered Batteries Debut 284

MojoKid writes "Yissum Research Development Company Ltd., the technology transfer arm of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has just introduced what it's 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. Researchers at the Hebrew University discovered that the enhanced salt bridge capability of treated potato tubers can generate electricity through means readily available in developing nations."
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Potato-Powered Batteries Debut

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  • food (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 19, 2010 @10:48PM (#32629560)

    Or they could just eat them...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by DWMorse ( 1816016 )

      Or they could just eat them...

      With NEW Shockingly Great Taste!

    • Re:food (Score:5, Funny)

      by cosm ( 1072588 ) <> on Saturday June 19, 2010 @11:19PM (#32629690)

      Or they could just eat them...

      +1 Insightful. If I am a 3rd world citizen, lacking food or means to purchase it, and I have some potatoes, and I am hungry and I have a flashlight or radio or whatever that needs juice, well, they are going to remain without power as I gobble down. Now if it was something like a person with an iPad, even if they are starving and impoverished, I think they would choose differently due to reality distortion fields. How they got the iPad I don't know, that is an exercise for the reader, and that reality distortion field is strong enough these days that there should be some sort of energy harvester for it in the works anyways.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Cylix ( 55374 ) *

        I'm currently seeking a grant to build a reactor based around Steve Jobs.

        Harvesting the power of the distortion field is paramount to ending the world's oil addiction. Unfortunately, as he grows old we will find a new source to power the reactor. The boys in the lab have cooked up a cocktail of pheromones, viagra, ginseng and amphetamines to ensure we have a healthy stock of potential reactor rods.

      • Re:food (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Nursie ( 632944 ) on Saturday June 19, 2010 @11:45PM (#32629782)

        NEWSFLASH - not everyone in developing nation is starving and short of food. For some, an alternative power source such as this is appropriate.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by afidel ( 530433 )
          bingo, I'm thinking of the farmers in remote villages in Africa that use cellphones to check market prices to determine when and where to bring their crops to market to optimize their income. Theoretically that's a win-win as well since the prices are higher because there is more demand for his foodstuffs than there is supply.
          • bingo, I'm thinking of the farmers in remote villages in Africa that use cellphones to check market prices to determine when and where to bring their crops to market to optimize their income.

            Yes, because they grow potatoes in the remote parts of Africa...I wish you were right afidel, but honestly most produce that "goes to market" comes from what one could dub superfarms it seems, at least those distribution companies that are publicly listed.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by afidel ( 530433 )
              Yes, they DO grow potatoes in the remote parts of Africa, in fact there's very few inhabited places on the globe where potatoes are not grown, mostly in areas with permafrost.
          • by wisty ( 1335733 )

            Keep in mind, Africa is an agricultural and mining country. They don't (as an aggregate) lack food. They lack bargaining power (which communications can improve), good leaders (which can be improved by better education), infrastructure, transport, and a lot of other little things.

            There are disaster-stricken areas where food drops are necessary, but most of Africa is trying to develop past that.

            • [quote]Keep in mind, Africa is an agricultural and mining country[/quote]

              Keep in mind Africa is a continent, not a country.

          • Re:food (Score:4, Insightful)

            by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <> on Sunday June 20, 2010 @10:25AM (#32631920) Journal

            But in that case wouldn't wind, solar, hell even a hand crank, be a better solution? I just don't see getting enough power from spuds to make this a very viable long term solution to anything. Maybe if they had figured out how to get power from rotting or otherwise useless food waste, that I could see, but this strikes me more like the stupid corn ethanol "green power" which is basically a back handed subsidy for corn growers.

            As the populations of the world increase probably the LAST thing we will want to use for power is edible food, especially when there are non edible sources such as wind and solar that really isn't hard to harvest.

        • Re:food (Score:5, Insightful)

          by bennomatic ( 691188 ) on Saturday June 19, 2010 @11:54PM (#32629820) Homepage
          THANK YOU. That sort of mentality disgusts me. I stayed at a place in Belize near the Guatemalan border once, and that place is third world by anyone's definition. And walking down the streets you had to dodge the chickens and keep an eye out for falling mangoes. I'm sure that if they had a way to power their cell phone towers with mangoes and chickens (and other plentiful items, they'd be thrilled to do so.
          • Hmmm wonder if biofuel would be a good answer for them. []
          • by keeboo ( 724305 )
            I see what you mean, but think about the following:

            Article says:
            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.

            So that means they have the means to plant and they're well enough to be able to use an edible vegetable for energy.
            Plus, they have no problems spending material for producing fire needed for cooking
            • by jbengt ( 874751 )
              You miss the part where they also need to be able to mine and refine zinc and copper.
              The power comes from galvanic action of the dissimilar metals; the potato is just the electrolyte/salt bridge.

              This is truly a non-solution (pun un-intended) to the overall problem of generating electricity from batteries, just an observation that boiling the potatoes makes them a better salt bridge than raw potatoes, with no comparisons to salt bridges of batteries currently in use and no insight into obtaining or storin

        • I think that a few of the African countries that have a starving populace grow enough food to feed their citizens, the problem arises when they have to export the food to be able to buy weapons to fight a civil war.
        • Re:food (Score:5, Insightful)

          by billcopc ( 196330 ) <> on Sunday June 20, 2010 @01:06AM (#32630064) Homepage

          Hell, many of them probably eat better than we do... less reliance on hyper-processed junk.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by westlake ( 615356 )

          NEWSFLASH - not everyone in developing nation is starving and short of food.

          That's true.

          But in a hot climate how long will it be before the boiled potato rots?

      • by jamesh ( 87723 )

        Or they could just eat them...

        +1 Insightful.

        Or maybe +1 funny. The article is brief on details but it may be possible to have your potato as a battery and then eat it.

      • by kcelery ( 410487 )

        Eat the potato and borrow a hand crank generator.

        • I wonder how the two systems compare in terms of efficiency? Potato -> electricity has fewer steps than Potato -> muscle movement -> electricity so in theory it should have the edge.

          But on the other hand, the human cranked version is based on proven components and it runs on a wide range of fuels - not just potatoes but rice, beer, bread, curry, pasta and beer.

      • Really? You found a way to attack Apple and Steve Jobs on an article about using potatoes as batteries?!

        Well, you're creative at least. I'll give you that much.

      • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 )

        Seriously, this guy's right. Think about it for a second. If I were a common resident of Africa (hardly able to call them 'citizens' in most cases), would I rather:

        Have a source of electricity at night to use my electronics (so criminals will be able to see the inviting light, bringing them in for the plunder/rape/murder)


        Have a meal.

        That's hardly a difficult choice. Though, given the choice between "a potato you can eat" and "a potato for making electricity", I suspect much of Africa would prefer the

    • Once you start buying food to make energy for a car or a home, food price skyrocket and developing nations only get poorer.
    • Re:food (Score:4, Insightful)

      by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Sunday June 20, 2010 @12:13PM (#32632672) Journal
      Precisely. Isn't the #1 problem in "developing 3rd world countries" there being enough food to go around, not electricity? I know the human machine isn't very efficient, but I'd think that the value of the caloric energy derived from eating the potato would be more valuable to them than any electricity you could get from it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Bigjeff5 ( 1143585 )

        Precisely. Isn't the #1 problem in "developing 3rd world countries" there being enough food to go around, not electricity?


        We already produce enough food to go around, the #1 problem in developing countries is their political system. It tends to be tyrannical, and they tend to intentionally keep their people starving.

        This is why these home-grown operations are being attempted - if the people don't have to rely on their government to make the tools to increase their production, then it becomes harder to oppress them.

        Just think about what we do with electricity - it was a major revolution when it came about, and we use it f

  • Puff piece (Score:5, Informative)

    by ozmanjusri ( 601766 ) <> on Saturday June 19, 2010 @10:53PM (#32629576) Journal
    There should be a whole bunch of red faces on Slashdot for putting this on the front page.

    There's nothing new about using vegetables as electrolytes, and all of the electricity is derived from the non-sustainable zinc and copper, not the boiled spud.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by shabtai87 ( 1715592 )

      I'm sure there's a significant way this differs from 50% of 4th grade science projects...

      • Re:Puff piece (Score:5, Informative)

        by LambdaWolf ( 1561517 ) on Saturday June 19, 2010 @11:13PM (#32629656)
        I believe the news here is that the technology is pragmatically usable (a potato battery used outside of an elementary school classroom? That's news) and in a way that's more economical than equivalent sources. From TFA:

        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.

        • Which has already been done in this 500 potato array:

          Apparently the only real value of the potato is generating the acid necessary to serve as electrolyte, salt water can serve too so technically under this guy's definition the ocean is a battery.

      • Obviously I didn't read TFA, but I did look at the picture, and it does indeed look like a school project, even down the tape round the squared off potatoes. :-)

    • Re:Puff piece (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Zouden ( 232738 ) on Saturday June 19, 2010 @11:18PM (#32629680)

      Indeed. This article is painfully embarrassing.

      This cheap, easy to use green power source could substantially improve the quality of life of 1.6 billion people

      Yep... 1.6 billion people are going to boil potatoes and place them between sheets of copper and zinc in order to light an LED []. Who writes this stuff?

      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.

      Boiled potatoes sitting around for weeks. It's a revolution!

    • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Saturday June 19, 2010 @11:18PM (#32629682) Journal
      Yeah, if we're going to have stories about potato batteries, this is one is sweet []. The guy took 500 potatoes, stuck them in the back of a u-haul, and used it to power a small sound system.
    • Indeed. Potato powered clocks []have been around for at least 25 years.

    • by bl8n8r ( 649187 )
      Information disseminates from the west to east (eg: New York -> Jerusalem). It's counter to the rotation of the earth which slows it waaaayyy down. If you had a class like geophysics in your school, you'd already know this. sheesh.
  • Chips? (Score:4, Funny)

    by shikaisi ( 1816846 ) on Saturday June 19, 2010 @10:58PM (#32629596)
    So does this mean we will be able to have our chips powered by chips?
  • Israel and batteries (Score:3, Interesting)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Saturday June 19, 2010 @10:58PM (#32629598) Journal
    Wow, what is it with Israel and weird battery technologies? Here's another story about [] some batteries made from sand and air. Not sure if anything came of that, either.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They're trying to saturate the media with weird battery stories so that nobody notices them announcing that the country is switching over to electricity generated from the tears of Palestinian children. You didn't think they made Gaza into an open-air prison *just* because they're Nazis, did you?

    • by ChromeAeonium ( 1026952 ) on Sunday June 20, 2010 @12:13AM (#32629902)

      Possibly because solar power is pretty big in Israel, so high tech batteries are in their best interest. And, just some baseless postulating here, but when you're surrounded by neighbors who don't much care for you whose biggest asset is oil, improving those alternative energy techniques might be a good idea. If Israel perfected solar power & storage, that could conceivably go a ways towards helping the world kick it's oil habit (solar powered batteries for your house and car), which would cut into the cashflow of said neighbors. So, batteries are good for them, and there is a chance that maybe possibly we're seeing some sort of scientific-economic-political strategy at work here.

      • So, batteries are good for them, and there is a chance that maybe possibly we're seeing some sort of scientific-economic-political strategy at work here.


        The "Yissum Research Development Company Ltd." trying to sell this turd has come up with a way to turn a food source into a power source. Except, it doesn't work because. . .

        1. The power comes from oxidization of metal and needn't involve potatoes at all. It could just as well be cow dung. Or a cup of salt water.
        2. The potatoes need to be boiled first, so there's a huge amount of energy already being spent/wasted.
        3. Potatoes rot and thus any power system would be saddled with ridiculous limitations i

    • Israel has a penchant for technological advancement. Somebody there has decided that they need to make a better battery, but it's taking a little longer than usual. Come on, just dodge the odd potato prototypes and have some patience!

  • by jmv ( 93421 )

    If this takes on, this means another group of people who are going to starve so that others can use more energy. Can't someone invent an energy source that isn't based on food?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They did, and right now the oil is killing all of our food :{

    • Re:Great (Score:5, Insightful)

      by belmolis ( 702863 ) <billposer AT alum DOT mit DOT edu> on Saturday June 19, 2010 @11:57PM (#32629834) Homepage

      What you say would be true only if potato production were limited to current levels and if there were no surplus. In fact, potato production could be increased to accommodate use for batteries, and in any case th ere is actually a surplus. Total world food production is adequate - the reason that some people starve is poor distribution of the available food, in considerable part due to political reasons. (Starvation in North Korea, for example, is the result of the incompetence of the country's government.)

    • If this takes on, this means another group of people who are going to starve so that others can use more energy.

      Yep. Isn't evolution wonderful?

  • by mrsteveman1 ( 1010381 ) on Saturday June 19, 2010 @11:03PM (#32629622)

    It's not an electrical grid, it's just a series of tubers.

  • ...if you overcharge or short this out, will it smell like french fries?

  • Ooooorrr.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by arielCo ( 995647 ) on Saturday June 19, 2010 @11:51PM (#32629804)

    If you want energy, you could ferment them tatties, distill good 'ol CH3CH2OH and burn it. You might get more watt-hours/spud this way and there'd be no electrodes to replace.

    Now, if you actually need small, cheaply refillable batteries for portable devices, this would be nice provided the electrodes don't wear out too much.

    • Unfortunately, the electrodes *do* wear out too much. The zinc, iirc, is the real consumable in a potato battery, not the potato itself.

  • by ramk13 ( 570633 ) on Sunday June 20, 2010 @12:26AM (#32629936)

    Doesn't this consume copper like lemon batteries []? Doesn't that have to be replaced too? No mention in the article.

    • Zinc is the more electropositive element, so the potato acid, will bind to the zinc, forming a salt. The copper would remain unaffected. But yes, the zinc would have to be replaced. Most of the energy in the battery would have come from the process of smelting zinc ore.


      Batteries Feeds [] @ Feed Distiller []

  • The Tesla Tuber Turbo?

  • by sonofepson ( 239138 ) on Sunday June 20, 2010 @12:41AM (#32629990)

    Great, now the potato famine can cause blackouts too.

  • I remember Mr. Wizard using a potato to generate small amounts of electricity when the show aired on Nickelodeon in the 80's when I was a kid.

  • by Black Gold Alchemist ( 1747136 ) on Sunday June 20, 2010 @03:15AM (#32630480)
    As far as I understand, this system is basically a zinc-air or zinc-water battery. What you get is a reaction like this:
    2Zn + O2 -> 2ZnO (zinc air)
    Zn + H2O -> ZnO + H2 (zinc water)

    The potato is decorative, and simply acts as the electrolyte, the copper is also decorative and simply acts as substrate for the air or water reaction (it could be iron, nickel or even a graphite rod). Their are using copper, as far as I understand, because it is cheap. The copper won't be consumed. The potato won't be consumed, unless it rots. It will eventually be filled with zinc oxide, which will "clog" the electrolyte. So basically, you'll save the copper until it corrodes (likely never because the zinc protecting it from corrosion), and replace the zinc constantly. My guess is that you'll eventually have to replace the potato, but not as often as the zinc. Part of the problem with this system is that the copper is not oxidized - instead of copper wire, you need copper rust. What you really want in such a system is this:
    Zn + CuO -> ZnO + Cu

    That's what the Lalande cell does. It was used in the late 1880's and 90's to power stuff like telegraphs. Instead of a potato, they used an alkaline electrolyte, like potassium hydroxide. This is way, way better at conducting electricity than a potato. Before the Lalande cell, we had the Daniell cell. The Daniell cell was based on a similar construction, but it used sulphuric acid instead of potassium hydroxide. Sulfuric acid dissolves both copper and zinc oxides, which lead to problems because some of the copper sulfate would make it across to the zinc. This would lead to the corrosion of the zinc, and the copper plating of the zinc, stopping further reaction. To resolve this, a porous bot or salt bridge had to be used to stop the copper from getting the the zinc. Unfortunately, although zinc-copper is a cheap chemistry with high energy density, it is tough to recharge successfully. This is because when the reaction is reversed, and zinc oxide is changed to metallic zinc, the zinc plate will change shape. This will cause the shorting of the battery, and its destruction. Zinc-copper is not really used all that much these days. Zinc manganese appears to have replaced it because it is cheap and has higher energy. It still has the same recharging problems, and if we could solve em', lithium would be out of business.
    • And people are using zinc-air fuel cells for some fairly substantial applications []. I suppose that's it's cheaper to just deliver the appropriate small zinc plates to an outlying village and let them use locally-grown vegetables as the electrolyte. But it would seem that there are advantages to dropping off some large well-designed fully-charged fuel cells, and picking up the spent ones for recharging or recycling at a centralized facility. Otherwise, I have visions of every village eventually having a "zin

  • You really think someone submitted this news to Slashdot and then got accepted?

    Do your research. This is a press-release from Businesswire, a news agency.

    It's like this: You want people to pay attention to your "news", you pay a PR agency u$s 5000 to u$s 10000 and they send your "news" to their buddies at Reuters, Asocciated Press or Businesswire.

    All newspapers, TVs (And reporters like kdawson) are subscribed to this news "collectors" and they pick up the news they want. It has been like this for years.


  • []

    reminds me of this satire that was created by some university friends of mine in the 90s, it was picked up by the main stream news and they were interviewed, linked constantly. It was, of course, a joke - and eventually bogged down the the constant phone calls and links they were freely saying so on their site and begging for it all to stop...

    and of course, they were slashdotted: []

  • I knew they would find a way to run Linux on batteries some day.

  • Am I the only one who had the "Two Potato Clock" when they were a kid? []

Did you hear that two rabbits escaped from the zoo and so far they have only recaptured 116 of them?