What Is Potato Power? And Does It Really Work?

Jane Marsh - March 2, 2022

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You may already be familiar with the idea of potato power from science fair projects and kitschy news articles everywhere. It almost sounds too good to be true. Can you really get electricity out of a potato? While the short answer is yes, there are actually so many moving parts and details that contribute to this idea that make it extremely interesting. Both from a sustainability and a scientific standpoint, there’s so much to learn about potato power. Here’s a bit more on potato power and how it all really works. 

Small-Time Science

Of course, one of the most common places you’ll see potatoes being used for power is the school science fair. And there are quite a few reasons for this. Primarily, it’s a safe, yet hands-on project that can teach kids a lot about where power and electricity comes from. However, this is good news for anyone who happens to be interested, because that means you can also try this out at home easily. Potatoes are made up of water, starch, sugar and trace minerals that contain plenty of ions, which are all important when it comes to generating electricity.

The Chemical Makeup

Obviously, it’s not possible to make electricity out of nothing. Potatoes actually happen to have a specific chemical makeup that allows for electric charge. Of course, you will need additional supplies in order to actually utilize this charge, but the makeup of starches and trace minerals sets you up for electricity. To be clear, a potato cannot be an energy source in and of itself. The potato’s properties allow it to conduct electricity and act as a salt bridge between two metals on either side. This allows the electron current to move freely across a wire in order to create the electricity.

How to Do It

In order to make electricity flow through your potato, you will need a few things. Like mentioned above, the potato itself is not electric, and requires a potato battery kit in order to work. Although you can find the supplies for this kit together, you can also put it together yourself. The main supplies that you are going to need are one copper nail, one galvanized nail and at least two metal rods. The conducting rods need to be different metals, usually some thing like zinc and copper. You’ll need to stick the nails into opposite sides of the potato and connect one end of the first wire to the zinc nail, and the other end to the negative terminal of a lightbulb or clock — whatever you prefer to power with your potato. Next, you’ll need to connect the copper nail to the positive terminal of that same device. As a result of this, the electrons will start moving from the zinc, through the wire and into the electronic device from the copper object.

What is Potato Battery Voltage?

This is all well and good as a science experiment, but what can it actually do in practical terms? In practical terms of electric power, one potato can produce approximately .5 volts of energy. However, did you know that by boiling the potato, you can get it to produce 5 volts instead? For reference, this is about half of the energy of an average AA battery. This still is not a lot of power, but it is interesting to know.

Is It Sustainable?

When it comes to alternative energy solutions, one of the biggest questions that most people have is whether the power source is sustainable. Of course, potatoes actually are some of the most plentiful crops being grown, but that doesn’t actually mean that power and things with potatoes practically will actually work. Even if you boil the potatoes in order to produce 5 volts of energy, it was still take 258 potatoes to power an average house for one hour. Given this information, it’s important to note what we can learn from potato power without actually using it, because it would require heaps and heaps of potatoes.

Potato Power

From fun science fair projects all the way to actually calculating how much power it would take for a potato to run your entire home, it’s extremely interesting to look into the ways that potatoes can actually create electricity. Now you know, potato power does really work!

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.