UBC Okanagan researchers are looking at the possibility of using the solid waste from fruit, as well as leachate, to generate energy for fuel cells.

The energy that is generated from food waste does not compare to the power of wind or solar scientists are looking at cleaning and increasing the efficiency of energy extracted from waste food waste, especially fruit waste. This is an substance that’s abundant within the agriculture area in the Okanagan Valley.

As per the BC Government, organic waste constitutes 40 percent of waste in the provincial landfills. Food waste, in particular is becoming a major issue for cities across the globe. This may be the reason for a drive to capture the waste to turn it into energy sources, according to UBCO Researcher Dr. Hirra Zafar.

“Today food waste has become an issue of sustainability that can have negative socio-economic and environmental impacts,” says Dr. Zafar. “Current techniques for treating waste like landfills, and incineration are linked to a variety of negative environmental effects such as acidic waste leachate and air pollution as well as methane production, and release of toxic pollutant that cause the degradation of our environment and pose health hazards.”

The Dr. Zafar who is the head of research at the School of Engineering, says Microbial fuel cells transform fruit waste into electricity through an anaerobic anode chamber. Inside this chamber the anaerobic microbes – which can endure without oxygen – utilize organic matter in order to transform the energy into.

Electroactive microbes eat organic matter within the anode area and then release protons and electrons. Protons and electrons mix with the electrons as well as oxygen at the cathode, releasing the water that is produced by the process.

Dr. Zafar, says different kinds of fruit provide distinct outcomes when processed using an microbial fuel cell, mostly due to their unique biochemical properties.

“Carbohydrates are degraded first into sugars insoluble and small molecules, such as acetate that are then eaten by electroactive bacteria in order to generate electrical energy during the process of electrogenesis.” she says.

Dr. Zafar as well as her co-supervisors Drs. Nicolas Peleato and Deborah Roberts who are researchers from the University of Northern British Columbia is working to increase the efficiency of bioconversion in fruits, which could produce greater voltage outputs.

In contrast to the fictional approach to Back to the Future where Doc Brown tosses in peels randomly, researchers observed that the procedure was more efficient and had more output when food waste is separated and crushed into tiny pieces prior to processing.

This research was conducted in collaboration with UBC Okanagan and the University of Northern British Columbia. The research was featured in the most current version of Bioresource Technology.

More information is available here:

Patty Wellborn

University of British Columbia

Okanagan campus

Tel: 250 317 0293

E-mail: patty.wellborn@ubc.ca