FWDS: Researchers hot on trail of heat from food; tho, capturing it, the tricky part

Number 2 in the Food Waste Disposal Series.

320px-Landfill_face[1]So much food gets eaten, but so much gets wasted too.

Last time in the FWDS, looked at were statistics related to municipal solid waste (MSW) and more, including the amount of food in the U.S. annually discarded and the percentage recovered.

So what are the related and relevant numbers? This from the “Food-waste-disposal-series kickoff: Introduction, background” post:

“Of all municipal solid waste (MSW) discarded, food accounted for 37.084 million tons or 14.6 percent of a total 254.1 million tons in 2013, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its distribution Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2013 Fact Sheet, Assessing Trends in Material Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States, June 2015. This means that every American on average discards roughly 0.1158875 tons or 231.775 pounds of food yearly.”

163px-ARS_red_onion[1]Meanwhile, some 87 million tons of the total 254.1 million tons is recovered. And, of that which is recovered, food accounts for but 2.1 percent of that 87 million tons which amounts to 1.827 million tons or 3.654 billion pounds, this information from the FWDS-kickoff post also.

Recovery of food waste is one thing. But, what if that which is recovered could be put to productive use? Such a program as this would definitely help keep more perishable and non-perishable foodstuffs alike out of the waste stream and landfills in particular where the methane gas produced in connection with this is a very real concern.

So, the American Chemical Society (ACS), in “Food waste could store solar and wind energy: Nano-Scale Heat Transfer in Carbon Nanotube – Sugar Alcohol Composite as Heat Storage Materials,”1 in its September 14, 2016 PressPac reported, “Electricity generation from renewables has grown steadily over recent years, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects this rise to continue. To keep up with this expansion, use of battery and flywheel energy storage has increased in the past five years, according to the EIA. These technologies take advantage of chemical and mechanical energy.”

Chemical and mechanical energy: they are what they do. All well and good. One thing obviously leading to another and using the imagination, what if energy in the form of heat could be stored. No way? Try “way”!

So check it out: “Some scientists have been exploring sugar alcohols as a possible material for making thermal storage work, but this direction has some limitations,” the ACS in the Sept. 14, 2016 PressPac continued. “Huaichen Zhang, Silvia V. Nedea and colleagues wanted to investigate how mixing carbon nanotubes with sugar alcohols might affect their energy storage properties.

“The researchers analyzed what happened when carbon nanotubes of varying sizes were mixed with two types of sugar alcohols – erythritol and xylitol, both naturally occurring compounds in foods. Their findings showed that with one exception, heat transfer within a mixture decreased as the nanotube diameter decreased. They also found that in general, higher density combinations led to better heat transfer. The researchers say these new insights could assist in the future design of sugar alcohol-based energy storage systems,” suggested the ACS in the September 14, 2016 announcement.

Sugar alcohols – a food-industry waste product – as it relates, are in abundant supply, according to the American Chemical Society.

And, as for how uneaten food is dealt with, the above represents but one solution among several.


  1. Related periodical reference: Journal of Physical Chemistry C, from the American Chemical Society

Images: Ashley Felton (upper); Stephen Ausmus, U.S.D.A. Agricultural Research Service (lower)

This post was last revised on Nov. 18, 2020 @ 6:47 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.

Published by Alan Kandel