Transforming spoilt tomatoes to electricity is definitely an interesting innovation. A group of student researchers from South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Princeton University, and Florida Gulf Coast University have developed a prototype fuel cell running on tomatoes. This is inspired by the large amount of tomatoes that go to waste in Florida ; 396,000 tons of tomato waste every year. Professor Gadhamshetty Venkataramana, who is the team leader of the project said that spoilt tomatoes when dumped in landfills, can produce methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – and when dumped in water bodies, can create major water treatment problems. 

Coming down to Nigeria, a popular market called Mile 12 in Lagos was recently closed for over a week due to fights between two tribes which resulted in the temporary relocation of the market to an open space on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Mile 12 is a market where the business of sales of perishable items like tomatoes, onions and yams thrived. Lack of storage facilities and poor sales in the present location resulted to spoilage of the perishable food items particularly tomatoes. Such spoilt tomatoes could have served this transformation purpose but effect might be minimal because of the small amounts of spoilt tomatoes relative to the expected output. 

How it Works

The conversion process depends on bacteria which is significant for breaking down organic material from tomato waste, and oxidizing it to generate electric charge. The charge produced is then harnessed using a microbial, or biological, fuel cell. The waste is also neutralized in the process, to prevent it from emitting greenhouse gases.

The bright red carotene pigment contained in Tomatoes is an excellent catalyst generating for electrical charges according to researchers. CNN reports that from research, it was found out that the waste from Florida alone could potentially generate electricity enough to power Disney world for 90 days. In rural locations where agricultural waste is dominant because of lack of storage facilities and poor power supply, this innovation will definitely be useful. 

The Journal of Power Sources in 2014 published findings from their initial study which shows that tomatoes are a suitable source of energy. The results from the pilot project were presented at the 251st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in San Diego this week.

Credit – Christian Science Monitor