A solid organic electric battery based on treated potatoes that was introduced by researchers at Hebrew University of Jerusalem promises to provide an inexpensive solution for parts of the world lacking in electrical infrastructure.

Researchers at Yissum Research Development Co., the technology transfer arm of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said they discovered a new way to construct an efficient battery using zinc and copper electrodes and a slice of potato. 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 scientists said.

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 that is five to 50 times cheaper than commercially available 1.5 Volt D cells and Energizer E91 cells, respectively. Light powered by this battery is also at least six times more economical than kerosene lamps often used in the developing world, Yissum said in a press release.

“The ability to construct efficient vegetative batteries supplies us with a novel way of exploiting bio-energy sources, which are currently primarily used as fuel,” said Yaacov Michlin, CEO of Yissum. “The ability to provide electrical power with such simple and natural means could benefit millions of people in the developing word, literally bringing light and telecommunication to their life in areas currently lacking electrical infrastructure.”

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 rapidly 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.

Yissum has made this technology freely available to economically disadvantaged parts of the world.

The research was led by Prof. Haim D. Rabinowitch from the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment and 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.

Source: Yissum Research Development Co.