(Potato) Power To The People!

Many Nigerians either lack access to electricity or must depend on expensive, polluting and often unreliable diesel-powered generators as their only option. But a young Nigerian is working on a potentially very accessible way to solve the issue: potatoes!

Author Annalisa Dorigo, 08.11.16

Many Nigerians either lack access to electricity or must depend on expensive, polluting and often unreliable diesel-powered generators as their only option. But a young Nigerian is working on a potentially very accessible way to solve the issue: potatoes!

According to World Bank’s data, as of 2012 only 55.6 per cent of the Nigerian population has access to electricity. Therefore for the remaining roughly half of the population, electrical power is a luxury they cannot afford.

Alabi Olusola, a hobby scientist from Lagos, Nigeria, has been experimenting with potatoes as a source of electricity. By inserting a zinc nail and a copper coin into the potato, a chemical reaction is triggered with the juices of the potato, and this reaction creates electricity. (You can watch a short video about Olusola’s experiments here)

Olusola found for example that to power up a small lamp for reading at night all he needs is to tap into the chemical energy of six potatoes. Olusola’s dream is to develop the technology further, so that cheap electricity can be produced from potatoes on a larger scale. At the same time, he wishes to train local youth to help him achieve his dream, therefore helping them skill up for the future, while also providing a source of employment and community development.

While potatoes may not ultimately offer a viable solution to households with a high electricity demand, this low-cost technology, if developed, nevertheless has the potential to give the poorest households and communities in Nigeria, and beyond, access to cheap and clean electricity that could power-up lights and small electrical appliances, such as mobile phones.

For many people, this would still mean a very discernible improvement in quality of life, including for many school children, who would be able to do their homework after dark.

With the search for cleaner and more sustainable energy sources on, experimenting with nature’s harvests – such as fruit and plants – as the source of electricity may well be a growing trend. In this quest, it makes sense that we look at low-tech, low-cost and accessible options, as well as those that promote self-reliance and resilience in energy generation.

Want to have a go yourself? There are plenty of YouTube tutorials on the subject. Here’s one:

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