New research by the American Chemical Society demonstrated how to turn damaged tomatoes into watts tomatoes, using a chemical reaction to generate electricity.
Not all tomatoes make it to kitchens, where they will be fried while green, cooked down into sauce, or meet their soul mates, bacon and lettuce. Some tomatoes simply go to waste, damaged or disfigured to the point where farmers decide to throw them away instead of selling them. But now, there might be a way to put those waste tomatoes to use.
“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,” researcher Namita Shrestha, said. “The process also helps purify the tomato-contaminated solid waste and associated waste water.”
Here’s how it works. The researchers put tomato waste in a cell with specialized bacteria that can break down the tomatoes. When microbes interact with tomato waste, they oxidize the tomatoes, releasing electrons. Those electrons can then get trapped in an electrochemical cell, almost like a battery.
Using this new method, theoretically, the volume of annual tomato waste in Florida (396,000 tons) could power Disney World for 90 days. Right now, the amounts of power produced is very low, only 0.3 watts for 10 milligrams of tomato waste.
“Our research question at this time is to investigate the fundamental electron transfer mechanisms and the interaction between the solid tomato waste and microbes,” Gadhamshetty notes. They plan to improve the cell by determining which of its parts — electrode, electricity-producing bacteria, biological film, wiring — are resisting the flow of electricity. Then they will tweak or replace that part.
Tomatoes are a key crop in Florida and the project is important to the state because Florida generates 396,000 tons of tomato waste every year, but lacks a good treatment process.
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