The diversity of sources for production of renewable energy is incredible. Scientists keep finding new and exciting ways to stimulate the movement of electrons through mediums of all shapes, sizes and origins. Many of these sources, of course, are just experimental. It is often that most have either very limited ability to produce a sufficient current or are simply not cost effective.
The story changes when the source is some sort of a waste product that harms the environment when it is disposed of. In such cases, the benefits outnumber the limitations by far, and suddenly what could seem like an experimental set up, becomes a contender with high potential to be turned into a viable product.
The latest source of renewable energy was identified by a team of researchers from he South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Princeton University and Florida Gulf Coast University. They decided to explore the possibilities of turning one of the major waste products of Florida’s agricultural sector, rotten tomatoes, into electricity.
Florida produces large amounts of tomatoes on yearly basis, with the fruit (or a vegetable, if you prefer) being available practically all the time. But, regardless of how optimized the process of harvesting the produce is, waste is inevitable. In fact, in total, every year the industry disposes of almost 400,000 tons of rotten tomatoes. To make it worse, these most often end up in landfills, where they are a major hazard as they generate methane, or they get dumped in water bodies, where they affect the aquatic ecosystem.
So, the researchers decided to look for ways to turn the waste into something useful, and invent something new along the way. They developed a special electrochemical cell, which can turn tomato waste into a source of electric current. What is more, the process can also be used to purify solid waste and waste water polluted with tomatoes.
The fuel cell contains bacteria, which trigger an oxidation process. As a result, electrons are produced, and captured by the fuel cell. The role of the rotten tomatoes to is act as a mediator, as the natural lycopene in tomatoes boosts the production of electrons. The researchers point out that unlike other waste materials that are outperformed by pure chemicals in fuel cells, rotten tomatoes showed to be better.
The results of the preliminary tests showed a production of the modest 0.3 watts of electricity from 10 milligrams of tomatoes waste. But, according to the team, the room for improvement is great. They believe that scaling up the production and perfecting the electricity generation process, can lead to a viable technology.
At the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, where the invention was first presented, the team stated that their technology has the potential to utilize all tomato waste of Florida and power Disney World for 90 days.
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