Introduction: Tiny AVR Microcontroller Runs on a Fruit Battery

Picture of Tiny AVR Microcontroller Runs on  a Fruit Battery

Some of the fruit and vegetables we eat can be used to make electricity. The electrolytes in many fruit and vegetables, together with electrodes made of various metals can be used to make primary cells. One of the most easily available vegetable, the ubiquitous lemon can be used to make a fruit cell together with copper and zinc electrodes. The terminal voltage produced by such a cell is about 0.9V. The amount of current produced by such a cell depends on the surface area of the electrodes in contact with the electrolyte as well as the quality/type of electrolyte.

The AVR microcontroller is a leading low power microcontroller that has been around for almost a decade now. Recently, new lower power devices have been added to the AVR family, called the PicoPower AVR microcontrollers.

In this instructable, we show how even the regular AVR devices can be set up and programmed to run off a fruit battery.

Step 1: Preparing the Fruit Battery

Picture of Preparing the Fruit Battery

For the battery, we need a few lemons for the electrolyte and pieces of copper and zinc to form the electrodes. For the copper, we just use a bare PCB and for the zinc, there are a few options: use galvanized nails or zinc strips. We chose to use zinc strips extracted from a 1.5V battery.

Start with a piece of bare PCB. The size of the PCB should be large enough so that you can create 3 or 4 islands on it. Each island will be used to place a half cut lemon on it.

Step 2: Prepare the Zinc Electrode

Picture of Prepare the Zinc Electrode

Next, open up a few 1.5V AA size cells for the zinc strips and clean it up with sand paper and solder wire to each strip.

Step 3: Arrange the Electrodes

Picture of Arrange the Electrodes

On the bare copper PCB, cut islands with a file or hacksaw and solder the other end of the wire from the zinc strip to each copper island. For one cell, you need half a lemon and one island of copper and one zinc strip.

Step 4: Add Lemons to the Electrodes

Picture of Add Lemons to the Electrodes

Place the lemons on each copper island with the cut face down as seen below. Make incisions in the lemons to insert the zinc strips. The photograph below shows three cells being used.

Step 5: Assemble the AVR Tiny MIcrocontroller Circuit

Picture of Assemble the AVR Tiny MIcrocontroller Circuit

Wire the circuit diagram shown here on a bread board. The choice of V type of AVR is important. For example Tiny13V is very appropriate for such an experiment, since V type of AVR is rated to work down to 1.8V power supply voltage.

Step 6: Program the AVR Tiny Microcontroller

Picture of Program the AVR Tiny Microcontroller

The AVR is programmed using STK500 in High Voltage Serial Programming (HVSP) mode. The fuse settings are as shown here. The C code is short and sweet:

#include<avr/io.h>

volatile uint8_t i=0;
int main(void)
{

DDRB=0b00001000;
PORTB=0b00000000;

while(1)
{
PORTB=0b00000000;
for(i=0;i<254;i++);
PORTB=0b00001000;
for(i=0;i<254;i++);
}
return 0;
}

Step 7: Battery Performance

Only one bit (bit PB3 on Pin 2) is being toggled.

The lemon battery performance (ambient room temperature 30 degrees Celsius) was measured as follows:

Number of Cells: 4
Open Circuit Voltage: 3.2V
Short Circuit Current: 1.2mA
Voltage with AVR TIny13V and LED load: 2.5V
Voltage with AVR TIny13V and LED load after 3 hours of continuous operation: 1.9V


Number of Cells: 3
Open Circuit Voltage: 2.3V
Short Circuit Current: 1.0mA
Voltage with AVR TIny13V and LED load: 1.89V
Voltage with AVR TIny13V and LED load after 3 hours of continuous operation: Not measured

Step 8: Achtung!

A short video of this circuit operated with the lemon battery is available on YouTube.

AVR Microcontrollers are very frugal devices and can operate at voltage down to 1.8V. The current consumption is also very small and the entire circuit including the LED current can be managed with a fruit battery.

Take care to dispose the materials, specially the zinc strips carefully without contaminating your surroundings. Do not reuse the lemons for any purpose after the experiment. Specifically, do not eat the used lemons after the experiment. Although this experiment is harmless and can be performed by children, it is best done under adult supervision. The authors cannot be held responsible for any injury resulting out of such an experiment.

Step 9: References

Anurag Chugh collaborated with Yours Truely for this experiment and setup. The following references were useful in performing this experiment:

1. Fruit Power
2. Atmel AVR Tiny13 Datasheet

Comments

Lucianello (author)2012-07-11

I have never seen something like this! Maybe we will integrate more fruit in advanced technology?

Dumchicken (author)2011-03-31

at first glance i thot it was a tenis ball battery

lunus (author)2011-01-19

I know I'm probably a bit too serious, but when you look at the chemistry, the power doesn't come from the lemons or the apple juice--they just provide an ion conductive path between the metal plates (which are consumed) any energy produced in the battery must be more than countered by the energy expended in refining those metals. (to get technical, one metal will be consumed)

PSPerson (author)2009-05-26

energy crisis:solved Solution: Lemons!! lol thats pretty awesome!

codongolev (author)PSPerson2010-04-05

that'd be a good thing to say at a press conference. "I have solved the energy crisis. lemons." and then just walk away without answering questions.

geeklord (author)2009-06-15

"One of the most easily available vegetable, the ubiquitous lemon can be used to make a fruit cell. " That sentance contradicts itself. I'm pretty sure that lemons are fruit......

codongolev (author)geeklord2010-04-05

yep.

brooklynlord (author)2010-02-20

"Do not reuse the lemons for any purpose after the experiment."

Can you use the lemons for the same experiment again?

ghzyy (author)2008-11-27

شكرا

Maarek (author)2008-08-29

I was wondering why you used HVSP to program this with the STK500 and not using the SPI (SCK, MISO, MOSI) on PB0-2?

zanshin (author)2007-04-04

great instructable!!!! i hope i'll have time to make this one

LasVegas (author)2007-04-02

In step 8, you could have easily put the video right in the Instructable by using the Video button. Other than that, pretty cool Instructable. Did you try other fruits/vegetables for power?

Gadre (author)LasVegas2007-04-03

We tried apple juice instead of the lemons and it was similar in performance. Havent tried any other combination yet, nor any other material for the electrodes.

LasVegas (author)Gadre2007-04-03

Zinc nails are easy to come by and work quite well for this type of application.

ARVash (author)LasVegas2007-04-03

Taters :3. (they work too :p)

alex_weber (author)2007-04-03

Very nice instructable. And I like the ATtiny13v, they can run on almost nothing. Can you reuse the copper and zink plates? Regards, Alex

Gadre (author)alex_weber2007-04-03

Can you reuse the cooper and zinc plates for making another battery? Yes, as long as it has not been physically damaged, it can be used again. We tried zinc plate from a used 1.5V AA cell and it was all worn out and had lots of holes in it and we cleaned it up and used it and even that worked OK.

CameronSS (author)2007-04-02

Cool system. How do you get the zinc strip from the batteries? I.e., is it the outside part, alkaline or carbon-zinc (I assume the latter), AAA, AA, C, or D? Good Instructable though.

Gadre (author)CameronSS2007-04-03

You are right, its the outside tube of carbon-zinc batteries. I believe it should be there for any size of battery although I extracted mine out of a AA cell.

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