A lemon battery is a simple battery often made for the purpose of education. Typically, a piece of zinc metal (such as a galvanized nail) and a piece of copper (such as a penny) are inserted into a lemon.
The lemon battery is similar to the first electrical battery invented in 1800 by Alessandro Volta, who used brine (salt water) instead of lemon juice. The lemon battery is described in some textbooks in order to illustrate the type of chemical reaction (oxidation-reduction) that occurs in batteries. The zinc and copper are called the electrodes, and the juice inside the lemon is called the electrolyte. There are many variations of the lemon cell that use different fruits (or liquids) as electrolytes and metals other than zinc and copper as electrodes.
There are numerous sets of instructions for making lemon batteries and for obtaining components such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs), electrical meters (multimeters), and zinc-coated (galvanized) nails and screws. Commercial “potato clock” science kits include electrodes and a low-voltage digital clock. After one cell is assembled, a multimeter can be used to measure the voltage or the electrical current from the voltaic cell; a typical voltage is 0.9 V with lemons. Currents are more variable, but range up to about 1 mA. For a more visible effect, lemon cells can be connected in series to power an LED (see illustration) or other devices. The series connection increases the voltage available to devices. Swartling and Morgan have published a list of low-voltage devices along with the corresponding number of lemon cells that were needed to power them; they included LEDs, piezeoelectric buzzers, and small digital clocks. With the zinc/copper electrodes, at least two lemon cells were needed for any of these devices. Substituting a magnesium electrode for the zinc electrode makes a cell with a larger voltage (1.5−1.6 V), and a single magnesium/copper cell will power some devices. Note that incandescent light bulbs from flashlights are not used because the lemon battery is not designed to produce enough electrical current to light them. By multiplying the average current of a lemon (0.001A/ 1mA) by the average (lowest) voltage (potential difference) of a lemon (0.7V) we can conclude that it would take approximately 6,171,430 lemons to give us the power of an average 4320W car battery.