Ugly tomatoes find new life as green energy source

Researchers in the US are using bacteria to breakdown tomato waste and transform it into electricity. The new “tomato battery” could generate enough electricity to power the entire Disney World complex in Florida for three months of the year while also helping the Sunshine State address its massive tomato waste problem.

We often speak of green or clean energy, but in this case it’s red energy: researchers at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology have discovered a way to transform oddly-shaped, damaged or rotten tomatoes into green electricity.

They believe that their “tomato battery” could one day generate enough electricity to power the entire Disney World complex in Florida, including theme parks, hotels, golf courses and shopping centres, for three months of the year, reports the Independent.

Their groundbreaking pilot project could also help address Florida’s tomato waste problem. According to the article, the tomato-growing capital of the US currently dumps 396,000 tonnes of tomatoes unfit for shop shelves each year.

When dumped in landfills, tomato waste “can produce methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – and when dumped in water bodies, can create major water treatment problems,” explains the project lead, professor Venkataramana Gadhamshetty.

According to the article, the researchers are using bacteria to break down and oxidise tomato waste, which releases electrons that can then be captured in a fuel cell and used as a source of electricity. They discovered that the red carotene pigment found in tomatoes is an excellent catalyst for generating electrical charges.

For now, the researchers are only able to generate a relatively small amount of electricity from the tomato waste, but they are optimistic that the energy output can be increased several times over with further research and development.


Image credit: sean_hickin, flickr/Creative Commons

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