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There's a Powerful New Use for Waste from This Incredibly Stinky Fruit

The inedible core of the world's stinkiest fruit — the durian — could one day be used to charge your phone, according to researchers at the University of Sydney.

We continue to hear stories of innovative uses for traditionally wasted food ingredients — some of our favorites include turning stale bread into beer, spent brewery grains into nutritious snacks, tomato waste into plastic; used coffee grounds into everything from biofuel and 3D-printing filament to clothing; milk whey into vodka and probiotic drinks; shellfish shells into plastic and purses; and waste from tequila, coffee and soy milk production into nutrient-rich flours, just to name a few. Now, apparently, the inedible core of the world's stinkiest fruit — the durian — can be used to charge your phone, according to researchers at the University of Sydney.

The durian — a fruit native to Southeast Asia, whose smell is so pungent and noxious (to most) that it has been forbidden in many public places in its native countries — may now pack another kind of punch: Scientists at the University of Sydney's School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering have taken the inedible cores of tropical fruit such as durian and jackfruit; heated, then freeze-dried them; and used them to create an aerogel (imagine the look and feel of a light sponge) – the inside of which can be filled with an electrolyte and used as a battery. The aerogel becomes a critical part of a supercapacitor – an energy-storage device. The researchers say these fruit-core aerogels can sometimes charge faster than average batteries, due to their structure — which could make them ideal for harvesting energy from EV braking systems, for example.

While they can charge and discharge energy quickly, as of now these aerogels lack the longevity of a standard battery — but their potential is compounded by their environmental benefits, as a climate-friendly alternative to the fossil-based materials traditionally used in to produce them.

As Brian Derby, Professor of Materials Science in the School of Materials at the University of Manchester, explained on PRI’s “The World” this week: “[Making] use of a waste product, that’s spectacularly useful — normally, to make these aerogels, you would use oil, petroleum products from the ground; or possibly tar coming from coal. So, this would be a renewable source — we wouldn’t be using carbon which was locked up in the earth, which contributes to global warming during extraction. One of the ways in which we can get around the climate emergency is just being a lot more efficient in everything we do.”

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Join us for a free webinar to hear how Sustainable Brands® (SB) and HowGood are revolutionizing event menus with climate-labeled foods. Learn how these labels can drive sustainable behavior change and help you align your brand values with your ingredient choices — Thursday, 18 July 2024, at 2pm EDT.

One limitation to rolling out tropical-fruit core batteries on a global scale is that the fruits can only be grown in certain regions and climates; but other studies around the world have used everything from rice husks and tofu to garlic to charge smartphones and other devices, so stay tuned.

Learn more about how durian and jackfruit cores could revolutionize electric battery charging here.