According to the EPA, 33 million tons of food was thrown away in 2010. Food waste now represents the single largest component of MSW reaching landfills and incinerators, costing Americans about $1 billion each year.
Even more shocking is the fact that most of the food we throw away would be considered perfectly edible by someone else. Still, market standards dictate that overripe or damaged fruits and vegetables are unfit for public sale, and as such, they’re tossed into dumpsters, or at the very best, a compost pile.
A pilot project in Germany is turning what would normally be food waste into energy gold. Researchers have developed a new facility that converts mushy tomatoes, brown bananas and overripe cherries (and much more) into methane, which can be used to power vehicles.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart have now developed an alternative: They have found a way to obtain this fuel not from the Earth’s precious reserves of raw materials, but from fruit and vegetable waste generated by wholesale markets, university cafeterias and canteens. Fermenting this food waste produces methane, also known as biogas, which can be compressed into high-pressure cylinders and used as fuel.
Although it’s cheaper (for now) and somewhat cleaner than oil, many motorists have converted their gasoline engines to run on natural gas. But just like oil, natural gas is also a fossil fuel. Reserves are limited, and the process by which it’s extracted from the earth, especially here in America, has been shown to put human and environmental health at risk.
By utilizing food scraps instead of natural gas, the German project is solving two problems at once: food waste is diverted from the landfill, and drivers have a cleaner, more sustainable form of fuel with which to power their vehicles.
And the upcycling doesn’t stop there. As EcoGeek points out, “the plant produces about two-thirds methane and one-third carbon dioxide from the process, but nothing goes unused: the filtrate water which contains nitrogen and phosphorous, and the carbon dioxide produced from the fermentation are both used to cultivate algae for another project, while the sludge left behind from the fermentation is sent to other institutes that are capable of making methane from it.”
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