I had to chuckle this morning when I checked my Clean Break column on the Toronto Star’s Web site. The business section has an area that ranks the most read articles by the hour. Despite there being G20-related business stories coming out of the city that hosted the controversial G20 Summit (I say controversial because $1 billion was spent on it and the past weekend saw hoodlums breaking store windows and lighting cop cars on fire), the top-read story so far this morning has been my column on turning boiled potatoes into batteries. Go figure — a sure sign that Torontonians have G20 fatigue.
In any event, my column takes a look at a study out of the University of California, Berkeley, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem that evaluates the practicality of using boiled potatoes to produce power for LED lighting in the developing world. The idea here is that a family would make dinner and boil an extra potato. The potato is sliced into four or five pieces and a zinc and copper plate are attached to each side of the potato slice. Connect the slices in series and finally to a couple of LEDs and, voila, for a few hours you’ve got a reading light in a village that has no electricity and therefore limited lighting alternatives. The scientists behind the study say it would cost 50 per cent less than using a AA battery and six times less than producing the same amount of light from a kerosene lamp. It’s also better than using a kerosene lamp because there are no harmful emissions or fire safety hazards involved. I was told that a dozen or so potatoes prepared this way could charge a cellphone.
My column also takes a look at a solar-powered bulb developed by a company called Nokero, which is also touting its product as ideal for villages in the developing world that don’t have electricity infrastructure to supply basic needs, such as lighting.