UBCO researchers are working to power fruits that are rotting

UBC Okanagan researchers are looking at the possibility of using fruits’ waste, both leachate and solid, to generate energy for fuel cells.

Although the power generated from food waste does not compare to wind or solar power scientists are working towards cleaning and enhancing the efficiency of energy extracted from waste foods, including fruit waste. It is an product that is abundant in the farming region in the Okanagan Valley.

As per the BC Government, organic waste constitutes 40 percent of the material found in landfills across BC. Particularly, food waste is a growing problem in cities across the globe. This is a major reason in the push to make use of the waste to turn it into energy sources, according to UBCO research scientist Dr. Hirra Zafar.

“Today food waste has become an environmental issue that has negative ecological, social and economic consequences,” says Dr. Zafar. “Current ways of treating waste like landfills, and incineration are linked to a variety of environmental harms that include acidic waste leakage and air pollution as well as methane production, and release of toxic pollutants, which can cause the degradation of our environment and pose health hazards.”

The Dr. Zafar is the head of research at the School of Engineering, says that microbial fuel cells convert waste into electricity through an anaerobic anode chamber. Within this area the anaerobic microbes – which can endure without oxygen – utilize organic matter to transform the energy into.

The microbes that are electroactive eat organic matter within the anode area as well as release protons and electrons. Electrons are combined with protons and oxygen in the cathode and produce the water that is produced by the process.

Dr. Zafar, says different varieties of fruit yield different outcomes when they are processed in the microbial fuel cells, mostly due to their biochemical properties.

“Carbohydrates can be broken down into sugars that dissolve and then smaller molecules, such as acetate that are then absorbed by electroactive bacteria that produce electrical energy during the process of electrogenesis.” she elaborates.

Dr. Zafar as well as her co-supervisors Drs. Nicolas Peleato and Deborah Roberts who are researchers in the University of Northern British Columbia they are working on increasing the efficiency of bioconversion in fruit, hoping that it will produce more voltage outputs.

Contrary to the fictional scenario to Back to the Future where Doc Brown tosses in peels at random times, the scientists observed that the procedure was more efficient and had more output when food waste is separated and crushed into tiny pieces prior to processing.

The study was part of a collaborative effort with UBC Okanagan and the University of Northern British Columbia. The research was featured in the most recent issue of Bioresource Technology.

More details:

Patty Wellborn

University of British Columbia

Okanagan campus

Tel: 250 317 0293

E-mail: patty.wellborn@ubc.ca

Source: The Plantations International Agroforestry Group of Companies