Using Tomatoes for Power
A team of scientists is exploring an unusual source of electricity -- damaged tomatoes that are unsuitable for sale at the grocery store. Their pilot project involves a biological-based fuel cell that uses tomato waste left over from harvests in Florida.
The researchers present their work today at the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world's largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 12,500 presentations on a wide range of science topics.
"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," says Namita Shrestha, who is working on the project. "The process also helps purify the tomato-contaminated solid waste and associated waste water."
Shrestha is a graduate student in the lab of Venkataramana Gadhamshetty, Ph.D., P.E., at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. They are collaborating on this project with Alex Fogg, an undergraduate chemistry major at Princeton University. Other project collaborators include Daniel Franco, Joseph Wilder and Simeon Komisar, Ph.D., at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Tomatoes are a key crop in Florida, notes Gadhamshetty. He stresses that the project is important to the state because Florida generates 396,000 tons of tomato waste every year, but lacks a good treatment process.
Gadhamshetty began working on the topic as a professor at Florida Gulf Coast University. "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," Gadhamshetty says. "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."
So, the team developed a microbial electrochemical cell that can exploit tomato waste to generate electric current. Shrestha explains, "Microbial electrochemical cells use bacteria to break down and oxidize organic material in defective tomatoes."
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Tomato image via Shutterstock.