Cornell Engineers Convert Food Waste To Green Electricity

wasted pastries from one industrial bakery

wasted pastries from a bakery. Credit: Creative Commons/Foerster

Food waste can now be turned into valuable green electricity. Cornell University researchers have carried out groundbreaking research, which observes that in future two disparate processes could be the desired dynamic duo that could convert food waste into green energy. The research outcomes have been published in the Bioresource Technology journal.

Roy Posmanik, a postdoctoral researcher and the lead author of the study said that food waste should have a high value. He added that they were treating it as a resource and making marketable products out of it.

The researchers have observed that all energy can be extracted from the food waste by using hydrothermal liquefaction before anaerobic digestion. The hydrothermal liquefaction involves a process of pressure cooking to produce oil, which can be refined into biofuel. The remaining food waste featured with an aqueous state is digested anaerobically by microbes. The microbes further convert the waste to methane, which is said to produce commercial electricity and heat.

Posmanink, who works at the laboratories of co-authors Jeff Tester, Professor of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, and Lars Angenent, Professor of Biological and Environmental Engineering said that in anaerobic digestion the food waste could convert to energy in weeks. He added that the aqueous product from the hydrothermal processing was better for bugs in anaerobic digestion than the raw mass. It was more efficient and faster by combining the hydrothermal processing and anaerobic digestion.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, nearly 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted. Food waste is also reportedly the single largest component going into the U.S. municipal landfills, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Posmanik points out that using the anaerobic digestion to make green electricity they were enhancing energy and food security.

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