New study identifies tomato waste as source of electricity

17 March 2016 (Last Updated March 17th, 2016 18:30)

Researchers from Princeton University and South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, in collaboration with other partners, have identified tomato waste as a source of electricity.

Tomato waste

Researchers from Princeton University and South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, in collaboration with other partners, have identified tomato waste as a source of electricity.

The team of researchers are exploring ways to generate electricity from tomato waste left over from harvests in Florida as they believe the natural lycopene pigment is a good mediator to support generation of electrical charges from the damaged fruits.

Under the study, scientists have developed a biological-based fuel cell that can generate 0.3W of electricity from 10mg of tomato waste.

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology graduate Namita Shrestha said: "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 wastewater."

The cell uses bacteria to break down and oxidise organic material in the defective tomatoes, resulting in the release of electrons, which are captured in the fuel cell and become a source of electricity.

"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."

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology professor Venkataramana Gadhamshetty said that Florida is estimated to generate 396,000t of tomato waste every year.

Gadhamshetty said: "We wanted to find a way to treat this waste that, when dumped in landfills, can produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and when dumped in water bodies, can create major water treatment problems."

The researchers are planning to increase power output of the cell by determining and replacing its parts, including electrodes, electricity producing bacteria, biological film and wiring, which are resisting the flow of electricity.

Gadhamshetty added: "Our research question at this time is to investigate the fundamental electron transfer mechanisms and the interaction between the solid tomato waste and microbes."

The researchers are planning to present the project at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in the San Diego Convention Center.


Image: Florida is estimated to generate 396,000t of tomato waste every year. Photo: courtesy of SawitreeLyaon / iStock / Thinkstock / American Chemical Society.