Energy from rotten tomatoes could someday provide a significant amount of electricity by using microbial electronic cells. According to a team of researchers from three universities, the waste tomatoes from Florida alone could yield enough electric energy to fuel Disney World for about three months a year. The team presented their work at the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.
Techxplore quotes undergraduate Namita Shrestha as he explained the project.
“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. The process also helps purify the tomato-contaminated solid waste and associated waste water.”
Harvesting energy from rotten tomatoes involves using a biologically-based fuel cell. Bacteria inside the fuel cell cause oxidation, also known as decay or rotting. The process breaks down organic materials in the rotten fruits. This, in turn, releases electrons. The fuel cell captures these electrons, thus generating electricity from the decay process. Tree Hugger explains that tomatoes naturally contain a chemical called lycopene. Lycopene promotes the generation of electricity, making tomatoes the ideal fruit to use in the biological electrochemical fuel cells.
This research is especially important in Florida, where 496,000 tons of rotten, culled tomatoes either clog water treatment systems or lay in landfills producing methane. Methane is a naturally occurring toxic greenhouse gas produced abundantly by the decay of organic matter. It is believed to be harmful to the environment even though it is naturally occurring.
Creating energy from rotten tomatoes was the brainchild of Professor Venkataramana Gadhamshetty currently of South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and undergraduate Alex Fogg of Princeton, according to Gizmodo. Also in collaboration are Daniel Franco, Joseph Wilder, and Simeon Komisar Ph.D. from Florida Gulf Coast University. Dr. Gadhamshetty explains how it all started.
“The project began a few years ago when Alex visited my lab in Fort Myers, Florida, and said he was interested in researching a local problem, especially local tomatoes grown in our state and the large waste treatment issue.”
Generating energy from rotten tomatoes using the newly developed cells would solve several problems at once. It would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions in two ways, It would prevent the leakage of methane from corrupted and decaying fruits, and the energy produced would replace various fossil fuels used to generate the same amount of energy. Not only that, it would prevent the contamination of water supplies and prevent the clogging of water treatment facilities previously caused by discarded rotten tomato waste.
Eventually, the researchers hope their new technology will be used on a significantly larger scale, but the demonstration of their experiment was on a very small scale. Using only 10 mg of tomato waste, that is 0.002 of a teaspoon — essentially a drop — they were able to produce 0.3 watts. Researchers anticipate the energy wattage output to increase exponentially, by several orders of magnitude, when the experiments are reproduced on a much larger scale.
Energy from rotten tomatoes in Florida would create green energy while reusing waste agricultural products.
[Photo by Sergio Camacho/Getty Images]