A team of scientists is exploring an unusual source of electricity — damaged tomatoes that are unsuitable for sale at the grocery store.
Their pilot project involves a biological-based fuel cell that uses tomato waste left over from harvests in Florida.
The researchers presented their work at the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
“We have found that spoiled and damaged tomatoes left over from harvest can be a particularly powerful source of energy when used in a biological or microbial electrochemical cell,” says Namita Shrestha, who is working on the project.
“The process also helps purify the tomato-contaminated solid waste and associated waste water.”
Tomatoes are a key crop in Florida. The project is important to the state because Florida generates 396,000 tons of tomato waste every year, but lacks a good treatment process.
The team developed a microbial electrochemical cell that can exploit tomato waste to generate electric current.
“Microbial electrochemical cells use bacteria to break down and oxidize organic material in defective tomatoes.”
The oxidation process, triggered by the bacteria interacting with tomato waste, releases electrons that are captured in the fuel cell and become a source of electricity.
The natural lycopene pigment in tomatoes, the researchers have found, is an excellent mediator to encourage the generation of electrical charges from the damaged fruits.
At the moment, the power output from their device is quite small: 10 milligrams of tomato waste can result in 0.3 watts of electricity.
But the researchers note that with an expected scale up and more research, electrical output could be increased by several orders of magnitude.
According to calculations by the researchers, there is theoretically enough tomato waste generated in Florida each year to meet Disney World’s electricity demand for 90 days, using an optimized biological fuel cell.
News source: American Chemical Society.
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