Two Singaporean students have made it to the global finals of the Google Science Fair for their project which seeks to find a possible source of renewable energy from food waste — such as sugarcane pulp sourced at hawker centres here.
Chosen from a shortlist of 100 regional entries, Emma Tan and Jenevieve Ho, both students at the National Junior College, will be among 20 teams of students to fly to Google’s international headquarters in Mountain View, California in the United States this July to present their project to a panel of judges.
Running since 2011, the annual online competition allows students from around the world between the ages of 13 to 18 to submit proposals which offer innovative solutions to real world problems in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths.
Winners of the grand finals will receive a total of US$50,000 in scholarship funding to further their education.
To tackle the issue of growing food waste, the girls proposed converting food waste into clean, renewable energy to meet rising demand for electricity globally.
They sought to determine if food waste could be used in microbial fuel cells (MFC), which is a bio-electrochemical device that converts organic substrates into electrical energy. MFCs are seen as a potential source of renewable energy and an alternative to fossil fuels. Some commonly-used substrates, which are substances that are required in a chemical reaction, in MFCs are pure forms of carbohydrates such as glucose.
Research has been done to find sustainable, low-cost material that can replace glucose as a substrate, but there is a dearth of research on the use of food waste.
Given that food waste contains many carbohydrates and is available easily, the girls decided to use common types of food waste for their experiment — specifically banana peels and the inner and outer layers of sugarcane. The duo sourced for juiced sugarcane pulp from hawker stalls and bananas from supermarkets, and subsequently tested them in MFC set-ups.
From their experiments, they found that food waste could indeed be used as a potential substrate in MFCs.
They also found that among the three types of food waste tested, banana peels made the best substrate as it had the best voltage performance, comparable to glucose.
This was followed by the outer layer of sugarcane and then the inner layer of sugarcane.
In their submission to the competition, Miss Tan and Miss Ho said that their study was “a step closer” to making MFC a more viable alternative source of energy, and would contribute to the fight against climate change.