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Indian-origin scientists reveal tomato waste can generate electricity

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New York: A study involving Indian-origin scientists revealed that damaged tomatoes unsuitable for sale can be used as a powerful source of generating electricity.

“We have found that spoiled and damaged tomatoes left over from harvest can be a particularly powerful source of energy when used in a biological or microbial electrochemical cell,” said Namita Shrestha from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

“The process also helps purify the tomato-contaminated solid waste and associated waste water,” added Shrestha, who is working on the project with Venkataramana Gadhamshetty, an assistant professor at South Dakota and Alex Fogg, an undergraduate chemistry major at Princeton University.

The research findings were presented at the 251st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society held in California’s San Diego city on Wednesday.

“The project began a few years ago when Alex visited my lab in Fort Myers, Florida, and said he was interested in researching a local problem, especially local tomatoes grown in our state and the large waste treatment issue,” Gadhamshetty said.

Tomatoes are a key crop in Florida. The project is important to the state because Florida generates 396,000 tonnes of tomato waste every year, but lacks a good treatment process.

The team developed a microbial electrochemical cell that can exploit tomato waste to generate electric current.

“Microbial electrochemical cells use bacteria to break down and oxidise organic material in defective tomatoes,” Shrestha explained.

The oxidation process, triggered by the bacteria interacting with tomato waste, releases electrons that are captured in the fuel cell and become a source of electricity.

The power output from the team’s device is quite small — 10 mg of tomato waste can result in 0.3 watts of electricity. But the researchers note that with an expected scale up and more research, the electrical output could be increased by several orders of magnitude. (IANS)

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Insurance Claims From California’s Wildfire At $9 Billion

State and federal officials are currently removing hazardous household materials from the damaged properties.

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California, Insurance
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones talks about the costs of recent wildfires during a news conference in Sacramento, California. VOA

Insurance claims from last month’s California wildfires already are at $9 billion and expected to increase, the state’s insurance commissioner announced Wednesday.

About $7 billion in claims are from the Camp Fire that destroyed the Northern California city of Paradise and killed at least 86 people, making it the deadliest U.S. wildfire in at least a century. The rest is from the Woolsey and Hill fires in Southern California.

Collectively, the fires destroyed or damaged more than 20,000 structures, with the vast majority in and around Paradise. On Tuesday, state and federal authorities estimated it will cost at least $3 billion just to clear debris.

“As the claims get perfected, as individuals get access to their former homes and neighborhoods, as they dialogue with their insurance companies and share more information about the scope of their loss, we expect these numbers to rise,” Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said of the $9 billion estimate.

California, Wildfire, Insurance
Jennifer Christensen sorts through items found in a safe at the remains of her home Dec. 5, 2018, in Paradise, California. VOA

Over 28,000 claims

There are more than 28,000 claims for residential personal property, nearly 2,000 from commercial property and 9,400 in auto and other claims for the fires.

That’s well above the number of claims filed following a series of fires that tore through Northern California’s wine country last year. Losses from those fires were initially pegged at $3.3 billion but eventually grew to $10 billion.

While the Camp Fire destroyed about double the number of structures as the 2017 fires, home values in Butte County are far lower than those in Sonoma County. That’s part of the reason total claims may seem low compared to the 2017 figures, Jones said. Median home values in Sonoma County are more than double those in Butte.

Jones advised home owners to be cautious of “fraudsters and scam artists” trying to take advantage of vulnerable communities.

California, Fire prevention, wildfires, Insurance, rain
A controlled burn ignites pine trees on the “Rough Fire” — which closed camps east of Fresno at Hume Lake as it crossed Highway 180 — in the Sequoia National Forest in California, Aug. 21, 2015. VOA

He also said its time for California to start rethinking how and if it builds in fire-prone areas. Ken Pimlott, outgoing director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told The Associated Press this week the state should consider banning construction in vulnerable areas.

Jones said local governments may not be fully considering the long-term impacts of building in areas at high risk of fire, floods and rising sea levels.

“That’s going to be a hard conversation. Everybody likes to build new, people obviously want to rebuild their communities,” he said. “We’re in a new era where these risks are so bad I think we’ve really got to take a look at how we’re making these decisions.”

Cause of fire remains unknown

Authorities are still determining what caused the fire.

Pacific Gas & Electric told regulators that a high-voltage power line malfunctioned at the time and spot that investigators believe the fire started on Nov. 8.

California, Fire prevention, wildfires, Insurance
Joe Balog, a workforce management director at Travelers, examines weather, social media and other data from recent natural disasters inside the company’s catastrophe response command center in Windsor, Connecticut. VOA

The San Francisco-based utility told the California Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday that several miles away workers found a fallen power pole and equipment with bullet holes.

86 deaths linked to fire

A number of fire victims have filed lawsuits alleging that PG&E’s equipment started the fire that destroyed the town of Paradise and killed at least 86 people.

The cleanup costs for last month’s fires will far surpass the record expense of $1.3 billion the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers spent on debris removal in Northern California in 2017.

California Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci said the state will manage cleanup contracts this time. Last year, hundreds of Northern California homeowners complained that contractors paid by the ton hauled away too much dirt and damaged unbroken driveways, sidewalks and pipes.

The state OES spent millions repairing that damage.

California, School
Trees reflect in a swimming pool outside Erica Hail’s Paradise, Calif., home, which burned during the Camp Fire. VOA

Lesson learned

Ghilarducci said the state OES will hire auditors and monitors to watch over debris removal in hopes of cutting down on the number of over-eager contractors.

“We learned a great number of things,” last year, Ghilarducci said.

Also Read: Insurance Company’s Response To Wildfire Claims Better Due to Technology

He said the U.S. Corps of Engineers was asked to lead the effort last year because state resources were stretched thin after responding to more than a dozen wildfires. This year, he said state officials can manage the cleanup and costs will be shared among state, federal and local authorities.

Cleanup is expected to begin in January and take about a year to complete. State and federal officials are currently removing hazardous household materials from the damaged properties. (VOA)