Vine-Ripe Fuel: Researchers Generate Electricity with Tomatoes

Vine-Ripe Fuel: Researchers Generate Electricity with Tomatoes

Fried, sauced, sliced or just eaten off the vine, there are few things more satisfying than a good tomato. Unfortunately, not all tomatoes make it onto a dinner plate, generating mountains of waste in landfills every year. But researchers at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and Princeton University are collaborating to make a smashed and rotten tomato just as appealing as a ripe, fresh one.

“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, a graduate student working on the project.

“The process also helps purify the tomato-contaminated solid waste and associated waste water.”

Their research has focused on Florida’s tomato crop, where nearly 400,000 tons of wasted tomatoes go into landfills every year. The process uses bacteria to break down and oxidize the organic material in these tomatoes, which releases electrons that can be captured in a fuel cell. 

Although you won’t find tomato-fueled power plants springing up anytime soon — 10 milligrams of tomato waste results in only 0.3 watts of electricity — researchers do think the discovery has some promise. According to calculations by Shrestha, a year’s worth of tomato waste in Florida could meet Disney World’s electricity demand for three months.

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