Sep 192011
 
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The methods would potentially allow food waste to be processed at home and on an industrial scale.

Microwaving waste food products could be used to produce important chemicals and biofuels, new technology has shown.

The methods would potentially allow food waste to be processed at home and on an industrial scale.

The technology could provide a renewable source of carbon, as well as addressing the growing problem of global waste.

Professor James Clark of the University of York unveiled these plans at the British Science Festival in Bradford.

Using highly focused microwaves, the scientists believe they can input any organic waste, and extract useful chemical compounds that can be harnessed in materials and biofuel applications.

An international group of scientists have been working together to develop this technology, and they plan to build a demonstration facility in York later this year.

Future is orange

Waste is an unavoidable product of the increasingly complex processes of global food supply, with unused organic residues being produced in vast quantities at the farm, in the factory, and by the consumers themselves.

For example, in the production of cassava in Africa, 228 million tonnes of unused starch are produced each year, and the coffee grounds produced in Europe account for three million tonnes of waste a year. Much of the UK’s waste comes from agricultural residues – the unused leaves and stalks and husks of cereals and farm crops.

In the commercial production of orange juice in Brazil, only half of the fruit is used, leaving the rest as waste. This orange peel makes up eight million tonnes a year of waste.

The project OPEC, or the Orange Peel Exploitation Company, plans to ultimately bring the new technology developed at the University of York to Brazil, where fuels and chemicals can be derived from this orange peel waste.

Professor Clark explained: “You dice the peel, put it into a microwave field, focus that microwave field as you would do with a domestic microwave, but at a much higher power. The microwaves activate the cellulose, triggering the release of a lot of chemicals.”

One of these chemicals, called limonene, can be used directly in fragrances or contributing to making other highly-desired chemicals.

These orange peel-derived chemicals could ultimately be used to make many of the materials and chemicals that we currently rely on oil for.

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