While produce truckers haul thousands of load of Florida tomatoes each year, the Sunshine state still has a big time tomato waste problem. Some solutions to this problem may be coming from researchers in Florida.
They have been performing groundbreaking work on turning rotten, damaged and generally unfit for sale tomatoes into electricity, which could be a major source of green energy.
The researchers working on the pilot project see tremendous potential in the new “tomato battery.” They believe it could eventually generate enough energy from the state’s tomato waste to power Disney World’s 43 square mile complex of hotels, theme parks, golf courses and shopping centres for three months of the year.
The process could also reduce Florida’s tomato waste, which currently has 396,000 tons dumped into landfills and waterways annually, causing significant problems for the environment.
The scientists are using bacteria to break down and oxidise “defective” tomato waste – a chemical reaction which releases electrons that can be captured in a fuel cell and be a source of electricity.
Tomatoes are particularly well suited to the job because they contain a bright red carotene pigment, which the researchers have found to be an excellent catalyst for generating electrical charges.
Team leader Professor Venkataramana 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.”
He acknowledges that the amount of electricity they are generating from tomato waste is relatively small, but says with more research and development the energy output can be increased many times over.