A Brussels Sprout Battery? Yes, Really!

Light up for the holidays the green way

Posted by Katie Marks | G+ | Nov 26, 2013
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Photo: Pasco Olivier/FlickrHave you heard of vegetable batteries? You might even have made one as a science project when you were a kid, depending on where you went to school and how much your parents trusted you with electricity -- and how many veggies your Charlotte organic garden produced. As a science experiment, they're a neat novelty illustrating that you can find power in surprising places, but it turns out that vegetable batteries have a lot more potential than that.

Like many businesses, London's Southbank Center is aglow with holiday lights at this time of year, leading to huge energy usage despite offsets like using LEDs, trying to buy energy from renewable sources, and other tricks. So, one of its Christmas trees is lit in a very special way: with a Brussels sprout battery. 100 of the delicious little veggies are juicing up the tree to keep it alight for the holidays, demonstrating that you can go green in a very literal sense.

Sure, it's only a drop in the bucket, but it's an important symbolic gesture giving a nod to green energy and the need to adjust our energy usage.

Developed by the Big Bang UK Young Scientists and Engineers Fair, the device works in a rather ingenious way. Like other vegetable batteries, it includes electrodes made from copper and zinc that generate a chemical reaction in the vegetable to generate electricity. The resulting energy is enough to power the LEDs on the eight foot tree, although the battery will get weaker as the vegetables start to decompose, requiring a fresh infusion eventually to keep the tree powered through the holiday.

Technically, any vegetable would work in the battery, but Brussels sprouts have a nice symbolic value. People tend to hate this misunderstood vegetable, and while they might think this nonculinary use is the only fitting one for the humble sprout, hopefully it'll help rehab the veggie's reputation. Or at least spark some conversations as visitors see the majestic battery on display and marvel at the veggie power in action.

Are vegetable batteries going to save the future and get us off petroleum? Well, no, but they are a cool illustration of the miracles of science at work, and if you ask your electrician, she may well confess to having experimented with them in her youth when she was first intrigued by the inner workings of electricity. At the very least, making a vegetable battery can be a fun project with the kids over the winter holiday when you're looking for something cheap, fun, and informative to entertain them with -- but make sure they eat the rest of their veggies!

Katie Marks writes for Networx.com.

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