How 17-year-old ‘Gopalji’ is using bananas stems to electrify homes in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district

Ganesh Prasad Ajay Kumar May 22, 2017 4 min

In India, we’re bananas about bananas. No part of it is wasted. We eat ripe and raw bananas, the stem and the flower. The leaves are used as throwaway plates and the plant is almost indispensable in religious rituals.

Now, add to these the Banana Biocell, an innovation to generate electricity from banana stems, which is lighting up homes in Naugachiya block of Bhagalpur district in Bihar.

The innovation is credited to Gopal Jee, a 17-year-old youth from Dhruvganj village in Naugachiya. The biocell can generate up to 12 volts of electricity, enough to light two LED bulbs, from one banana stem.

“I discovered energy in the citric acid found in the banana stem. I bought two electrodes — one zinc and one copper — placed them in a cell and connected them to two lengths of banana stems measuring one foot each” — Gopal.  

It all started with scientific curiosity. Gopal had a question: Why was it impossible to remove the stain left on clothes by the sticky substance in the banana stem? His father, Prem Ranjan, a banana planter and trader, told him it could be because the stem contained some sort of natural acid.

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“That got me thinking. I started researching on the plant and struck upon the idea of producing alternate energy from it,” says Gopal.

The concept is simple — the bio energy in the banana stem is converted into electrical energy by using electrodes

For the next two years, he read books from his school library and talked to his science teachers to understand the properties of the acid in the banana stem. Then, he worked out a way to produce green energy from it. The result was the Banana Biocell.

“I discovered energy in the citric acid found in the banana stem. I bought two electrodes — one zinc and one copper — placed them in a cell and connected them to two lengths of banana stems measuring one foot each,” says Gopal.

This produced three volts of electricity, enough to light one LED bulb for three hours. The cylindrical stems resembled cell batteries. “To generate 12 volts, I added more lengths of banana stems,” he says.

The concept is simple, similar to that of an inverter — the bio energy in the banana stem is converted into electrical energy by using electrodes.

Gopal says the biocell works as long as there’s natural acid in the banana stem. He also calls his innovation the ‘Gel Cell’ as it does not use liquid (acid) in its pure form.

In a region starved for an efficient and reliable source of electricity — villagers claim they have 12-14 hour power cuts every day — Gopal’s technology is a boon. Especially because it’s very cheap to produce. The two electrodes come for less than Rs 200 and all you need is five metres of wire (approximate price Rs 25) and banana stems.

In a region starved for an efficient and reliable source of electricity — there are 12-14 hour power cuts every day — Gopal’s innovation is a boon. Especially because it’s very cheap to produce  

Naugachiya is abound with banana plantations. According to the Horticulture Department data, 37,000 acres in the region is under banana cultivation. Hundreds of tonnes of felled banana trees are disposed of as waste every year here.

Gopal is teaching the people of his village how to make the biocell. And he does this while studying to crack the IIT-JEE in Ranchi. He hasn’t thought about commercialising or scaling up the idea yet.

Abhinandan, Gopal’s friend from his Plus II days, said, “The cell is a boon for the poor students who don’t have electricity in their house. Many students take Gopal’s help to get a biocell so they can study after dark. I too use it to study during power cuts.”

The people of Naugachiya are so grateful to the young boy that they call him ‘Gopalji’ out of respect. That, to Gopal, is success  

The innovation has transformed the lives of the people of Naugachiya. Almost all homes in the block have dumped the earthen oil lamp for LED bulbs.

The people of Naugachiya are so grateful to the young boy that they call him ‘Gopalji’ out of respect. That, to Gopal, is success.

His father is immensely proud of his son’s achievement and his sister Neelu, a final year BA student, says she is both impressed and inspired by her brother.

Gopal’s innovation won him the Inspire Award 2016 at the state level.


Photographs: 101Reporters Photos Updated at 8.42pm on May 22 to change the word 'invention' referring to the banana biocell to 'innovation'. The ‘Tech Meets Bharat’ series brings to you stories on how technology is impacting and changing lives in hinterland India. Ganesh Prasad is an Aurangabad, Bihar-based journalist and Ajay Kumar is a Bhagalpur, Bihar-based journalist. Both are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.​