Food waste is prevalent across the globe. It is estimated that almost half of all food goes to waste before it is even sold. In developing countries like South Africa, food waste can be increased due to operational inefficiencies and power cuts. However, researchers are looking at new ways to use food scraps as a means to generate electricity.
Professors at the University of Waterloo, Canada, have developed a new technology that turns food waste into a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. The system uses a process of natural fermentation to produce a biodegradable chemical that can be refined into a combustible source of energy, similar to natural gas.
“People like me, environmental biotechnologists, look at food waste as a tremendous resource,” says civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Waterloo, Hyung-Sool Lee. “With the right technologies, we can extract numerous useful chemicals and fuel from it,” he explains.
New food waste technology is more cost-effective
These combustible chemicals extracted from food scraps can also replace a number of petroleum-based products such as plastic packaging and pharmaceuticals. Systems already exist to turn food waste into methane gas through anaerobic digestion, but this new technology is different.
According to Lee, the anaerobic digesters ultimately yield little or no benefit when you consider the high costs of food and the need for additional wastewater treatment after the process is completed. The costs and savings of typical anaerobic digesters are too close to be commercially viable in many cases.
The system developed by the researchers in Canada drastically cuts those costs by collecting and recirculating leachate in the food waste holding tanks. This leachate is a rich microbial cocktail that is infused with nutrients from the food scraps.
It is collected and then trickled through the food waste, instead of being thoroughly mixed in with the decomposing food. As the microorganisms in the leachate digest the food scraps, they excrete a chemical byproduct called carboxylate – a sustainable alternative to petroleum and fossil fuels.
New food scrap technology is viable on small and medium scales
“The amount of food we waste is staggering. That’s what motivated me to find a better way to utilize it to mitigate the damage caused by fossil fuels,” states Lee. The system designed by these researchers is cheaper and more productive than existing technology and is perfectly suited for use on a small and medium scale.
“Even small towns could have their own systems,” explains Lee. “Food waste collected in green bin programs wouldn’t have to be transported long distances to enormous, centralized facilities.” The next step for the researchers is to expand their work and develop large scale iterations.
Their long-term goal is to be able to market and sell their system in the next five years. This could mean that electricity producers around the world could start to turn the large volumes of national food waste into a cost-effective source of energy for power plants.
Averda is a leading waste management provider with over 50 years of experience across three continents. Through growth, transformation and engagement, we strive to find new ways of managing waste while protecting the community and environment.
By pairing international expertise with local insights, we have secured our position as one of South Africa’s most respected providers of waste management and industrial cleaning services. We also operate in the recycling, pipe inspection, CCTV, infrastructure inspection, hydro-demolition, high-pressure water jetting and catalyst handling industries.
Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for the best tips on recycling and the latest industry news. See our Instagram and YouTube channels for more insights into environmental affairs and our work with local communities.