MadSci Network: Chemistry
Query:

Re: How do I connect potatoes together to make more electricty that one potato?

Date: Sat Jun 16 03:01:25 2001
Posted By: Kevin Kolb, Undergraduate, Physical Science, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Area of science: Chemistry
ID: 985806278.Ch
Message:

Hello Darvell. I remember this experiment from when I was just a wee mad scientist. To make a potato battery, you need a potato, some copper and some zinc.

Copper is used to make water pipes, to coat pennies and to make electrical wire. I used electrical wire. I got the kind that is just one solid wire instead of lots of little ones. You can get bare grounding wire or just strip the insulation of regular wire. If you choose to strip the wire, you may want to get your parents to help.

Zinc is more difficult to find. It is used to make batteries (including the non-potato kind) and the cores of pennies I removed all the copper from one of my pennies using a file.

The next step is to jam the copper and zinc into opposite ends of the potato. Then youíve got your battery. The only problem is that itís only about half a volt. To increase the voltage, youíre going to need more potato batteries.

Once you have multiple batteries, you need to connect them properly. You may have noticed different types of battery arrangements in your electronic devices. To increase the capacity of the batteries, you connect all of the positive ends together and then the negative ends. You hook up your device in between the combined positive and negative wires. It will take much longer for the batteries to run out this way.

If you want to increase the voltage, you do the opposite. You connect the negative end of one battery and the positive end of another. The voltage increases with every battery that you connect this way. For example, if you connect two 1.5 volt batteries together, youíll get 3 volts. If you have three batteries, it will be 4.5 volts and so on.

Therefore, to increase the potato battery voltage, you will need to connect the copper end of battery 1 to the zinc end of battery 2, and the zinc end of battery 1 to the copper end of battery 2. It is tricky to make the connections. You might try using clothesline pins.

As I mentioned before, potato batteries produce very low voltage. To get to normal house voltage, you would need a couple hundred potatoes. Potato batteries are very clean producers of energy, but they just donít have the voltage and energy to be practical. Also, there is a problem with the energy used to raise and transport them. The farmer uses a tractor with runs on gasoline or diesel. The potatoes are transported to the store by trucks that run on diesel. The list goes on, but donít be discouraged. I am confident that we will find a cleaner alternative than nuclear energy and fossil fuels. Some of the most promising are wind turbines, improved solar cells and fuel cells. New battery designs may play an important role as well. You may have seen the new Honda Insight. It is a gasoline and electric hybrid. You can check out the website Insight.

Here is a web page that explains how batteries look. It includes pictures of battery arrangements on its third page How Stuff Works.

Finally, here is a web page that describes potato batteries Potato.

I hope this helps and good luck.

Kevin


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