Nutritionists and dietitians have long drummed it into people’s heads that food is the essential food we need to keep moving. Still, not even they must have considered the possibility of converting food waste into a potential – and certainly sustainable – fuel source.
A research team at Virginia Tech (VT) is currently studying how food waste can be upcycled into rechargeable batteries. Funded by a three-year grant worth nearly half a million dollars from the US Department of Agriculture’s Foundational and Applied Science Program, the study hopes to help solve the sustainability issues regarding the production of rechargeable and portable power sources. The grant will run until April 2023.
According to Haibo Huang, an associate professor at the Department of Food Science and Technology at VT’sCollegee of Agriculture and Life Sciences, there has been a notable increase in demand for reusable batteries across various industries. This, in and of itself, could cause further environmental issues unless sustainable components can be found.
“We need to find a way to reduce the environmental impacts of batteries,” he said.
Based on their initial findings, the team noted that fibrous content in food waste might be utilized as a key component for battery anodes or the negative terminals on batteries, particularly in the form of advanced carbon materials.
According to principal investigator Feng Lin, a professor at VT’s Department of Chemistry, this will involve using waste fiber-derived carbon materials to host alkaline metals like lithium (already a key ingredient for many rechargeable batteries) and sodium.
Lin said endeavor “will bring major advances” to battery technology and agricultural waste processing. He also added that the team is also using abundant and cost-effective raw materials in their work. These may significantly reduce alkaline metals in batteries and address the growing need in the energy storage field.
Over the next two years, the VT team will conduct additional tests on the converted food waste in order to optimize the end product. The study will conclude with an economic analysis showing whether or not the new technology is feasible for more widespread usage.
For now, it is hoped that the technology may be used in the near future as an affordable energy storage solution for data centers and other large-scale power storage facilities.
As Huang puts it, producing and transporting food in the supply chain requires massive energy. Therefore, there is a need for value recovery out of food waste. The project, therefore, provides a perfect opportunity since producing batteries demands sourcing a variety of materials compared to traditional carbon.