For most people recycling food waste has always meant tossing it into
the compost heap and waiting for it to break down. That is all about to
change after Ivan Cornejo, a materials engineer at the Colorado School
of Banana Peels (Public Domain Image)Mines, found a way to take the minerals from garbage like banana
peels, egg shells, and rice husks and transform them into clear glass.
The process started with the school's students on campus donating their garbage to a refrigerator. The waste was then ground, dried, and reduced to a fine white powder. This powder is made up of pure minerals like silica and oxides. Then the real magic kicks in as this is heated up in an oven to 3,000 degrees. The powder becomes a molten liquid that can then be poured into molds. When cool the result is pure, clear glass.
Traditional glass is made from minerals that are mined from the earth using heavy equipment. Aside from this being a finite resource, it also uses large amounts of fuel and other materials. This new process creates a renewable source for these minerals and hopefully will require fewer resources to process.
Landfill (Photo by Fruggo/Creative Commons via Wikimedia)Cornejo and his team are now trying to calculate what this could save the
planet in terms of how much greenhouse gas-producing waste could be
diverted away from landfills. This could have a positive impact on climate change. In addition, they envision a revolution in the field of mining to include pulling minerals from other sources than the Earth's crust to meet increasing demand to meet industrial growth. They believe that there may be enough food waste world-wide to support the glass industry's need for silica -- about 36 million tons.
This process would also reduce our dependence on foreign mining. "These mines are mostly open-pit mines all over the world. Silica is coming from Brazil and China. There's no reason to continue mining, destroying the environment, when we can find many of the materials we need from waste," Cornejo explained.
His idea for food-waste glass started when he heard a news story about people trying to decide whether or not to destroy a forest to get to the deposit of calcium carbonate located beneath it. The scientist inside him knew that there had to be a better way.
Whether you have heard of Cornejo or not, chances are that you have had your fingers on some of his work. He used to work for Corning Inc. where he was a part of the team that developed Gorilla Glass which is used in a billion smartphones and other high-tech products.
The United States government has issued a provisional patent on the new process. Cornejo and his team are continuing their research into using other food waste such as peanut shells, coffee grounds, and avocado pits to produce minerals. They are also looking into the mining of waste produced by farms and feedlots.
Source: Denver Post, ABC News