As the food-waste epidemic in the U.S. grows in the public consciousness, more companies are proposing ways to find uses for grub that would otherwise end up in the trash. Starbucks plans to donate all of its unused food to needy families, while the ex-president of Trader Joe’s is trying to help low-income families by selling cut-price groceries near their sell-by date. And now, researchers want to turn damaged tomatoes into electricity.


According to Modern Farmer, a recent study presented at the American Chemical Society finds that discarded tomatoes can be to generate power. Here’s how it works:

Biological-based fuel cells use bacteria—actual living things—to generate electricity. The bacteria eats various chemicals in the tomato waste, breaking it down, and release electrons as a result. In most biological-based fuel cells, there needs to be what’s called a mediator, some kind of chemical, that can transfer the electrons to the electrode, where they can be used as electricity. Most mediators, like thionin, are toxic, but tomatoes happen to have a chemical called lycopene in them which serves as a nice built-in mediator.


The study’s authors note that the charge derived from tomatoes is small: ten milligrams are required to produce 0.3 watts of electricity. However, in a state like Florida, there are enough wasted tomatoes (about 396,000 tons) to power Disney World for 90 days. That’s serious incentive for researchers to continue optimizing the electrical power of the fruit.


Those same researchers should save a handful of tomatoes to make a food waste-infused beer to toast to scientific accomplishments. All they need to do is follow the example of Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione and world-renowned chef Mario Batali to unlock the fruit’s boozy potential:

[via Modern Farmer, Grub Street, Eureka Alert]