People continue to find new ways to generate energy from unusual sources. A team of scientists at several universities recently reported on a new fuel cell that uses tomato waste left over from harvests in Florida.
Tomatoes are a major crop in Florida and they actually create a significant waste problem. In fact, Florida generates nearly 400,000 tons of tomato waste each year, which is difficult to dispose of. When it is dumped in landfills, it creates methane. When it is dumped in water bodies, it creates major water treatment problems.
The research team discovered that spoiled and damaged tomatoes left over from a harvest can be a particularly powerful source of energy when used in a biological or microbial electrochemical cell. The fuel cell process also helps to purify the solid waste and associated waste water.
Microbial cells use bacteria to break down and oxidize organic materials, in this case, the tomato waste. The oxidation process releases electrons which can be captured in a fuel cell and become a source of electricity. It turns out that lycopene, the substance that gives tomatoes their red color, is very effective in the generation of electrical charge.
Right now, the prototype devices produce very little power. But the researchers expect that with more work, the electrical output can be greatly increased. According to their estimates, there is theoretically enough tomato waste generated in Florida to meet Disney World’s electricity demand for 3 months.
So perhaps there are better things to do with rotten tomatoes than throw them at people we don’t like!
Photo, posted July 7, 2011, courtesy of Learning Lark via Flickr.