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Scientists created a way to turn food waste into a substitute for fossil fuels

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Posted May 24, 2019

1.3 trillion dollars – this is the price for the world’s inability to deal with food waste. Every year we are facing huge economic losses and causing huge burden on the environment by throwing out uneaten food. However, scientists are seeing this mess of wasted food as underused resource. Now engineers from the University of Waterloo developed a technology turning waste food into a clean substitute for fossil fuels.

Wasted food could be used as a form of energy, significantly reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Image credit: OpenIDUser2 via Wikimedia

Scientists utilized natural fermentation to produce a biodegradable chemical, which can be further refined to be used as a source of energy. In fact, this substance could also be used in production of plastics, food or medicine. But the best part is that this new method avoids the main flaws of currently available waste food management solutions, such as high cost and wastewater management.

Technology already exists to convert food waste into useful methane gas. However, scientists are calculating this method to be less than ideal in economic sense. The process is long, slow and requires some energy and work. Factoring in the cost for wastewater management, labour and energy you are left with financial losses rather than gains. This means that proliferation of this method is difficult. But the new method is simple and less costly.

Scientists created a method of collecting and recirculating leachate – a microbial cocktail mixed with microorganisms and nutrients. It trickles down food waste containers, allowing microorganisms to break down the wasted food. This method does not require energy-hungry mixing, which ultimately makes it more efficient and economically viable. Carboxylate is emitted during the process, which can then be used as a petroleum or crude oil substitute.

This method would also work better on smaller scale, which would allow smaller subjects to employ it in their waste management solutions. Hyung-Sool Lee, one of the engineers behind the new method, said: “Even small towns could have their own systems. Food waste collected in green bin programs wouldn’t have to be transported long distances to enormous, centralized facilities.”

Scientists already completed their lab tests and concluded that the method works well on a small scale. Now they want to move onto the next stage, which will involve medium and large scale testing. Scientists hope that the new technology could be commercialized within four or five years.

This could revolutionize the way we deal with our table scraps. They could be useful even once we don’t want to eat them anymore. Even more food waste is released by restaurants and grocery stores – it truly is a huge resource we have to take advantage of.

Article is based on information from the University of Waterloo

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