Old tomato © 123RF
Old tomato © 123RF

Old tomatoes could power Disney World for 90 days

22 March 2016

Damaged tomatoes could soon be an alternative to traditional sources of electricity generation, a team of scientists has suggested.

Scientists are examining if old tomatoes that are unfit for sale can be put to a good use and generate electricity. The project involves testing a biological fuel cell that uses leftovers from harvests in Florida, which is a major US tomato producer.

Namita Shrestha who is carrying out the research at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology 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 researchers developed an electrical cell which uses tomato paste to generate an electric current. When bacteria and tomato interact with each other, electrons are released in a process known as oxidation. The electrons are then captured in the electrical cell and become a source of electricity.

If succesful, the method could be an environmentally-friendly and efficient means of production for producers in Florida as research supervisor Venkataramana Gadhamshetty said the state generates 396,000 tons of tomato waste each year.

The researchers developed an electrical cell which uses tomato paste to generate an electric current. When bacteria and tomato interact with each other, electrons are released in a process known as oxidation. The electrons are then captured in the electrical cell and become a source of electricity.

If succesful, the method could be an environmentally-friendly and efficient means of production for producers in Florida as research supervisor Venkataramana Gadhamshetty said the state generates 396,000 tons of tomato waste each year.

The current electrical capacity of defective tomatoes is small, with 10 milligrams of tomatoes expected to only generate 0.3 megawatts of electricity. But Shrestha estimates Florida’s tomato waste generation is enough to meet Disney World’s electricity demand for 90 days using an “optimised biological fuel cell”.

The research project has been running for several years and was prompted by the fact that little was being done to facilitate environment friendly waste processes, Gadhamshetty said.

“We wanted to find a better way to treat this waste that, when dumped in landfills, can produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas,” he said.

“Our research is to investigate the fundamental electron transfer mechanisms and the interaction between the solid tomato waste and microbes,” he added.

The research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society last week.

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