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Last Updated: Friday, 27 August, 2004, 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK
Bananas could power Aussie homes
Bananas, BBC
A banana-fuelled power plant capable of powering 500 homes could be built
Australian engineers have created an electricity generator fuelled by decomposing bananas, and hope to build a full size fruit-fired power station.

At present, much of Australia's annual banana crop goes to waste, because the fruit are too bruised or small.

But rather than just letting them rot, the researchers would like to put the rejects to good commercial use.

If all goes according to plan, a banana-fuelled power plant capable of powering 500 homes could be built.

Mountains of waste

Engineering lecturer Bill Clarke, from the University of Queensland, said he hit upon the unusual idea when the Australian Banana Growers' Council approached him, looking for ways to use a mountain of waste fruit.

"In North Queensland, bananas are abundantly available and could be a great source of renewable energy," Dr Clarke said.

About one third of tropical Queensland's banana crop - which is more than 20,000 tonnes a year - never makes it into the shops.

Normally they are just left to rot on the ground, but Dr Clarke says this damages the soil - and wastes a potentially useful resource.

He has successfully used bananas to generate electricity in the laboratory, and is assessing whether a power plant could be commercially viable.

Bananas are abundantly available and could be a great source of renewable energy
Bill Clarke, University of Queensland
Dr Clarke lets the bananas decompose in sealed vats and uses the methane from the rotting fruit to power an electricity turbine.

So far so good, but the real test is whether this idea can be a commercial winner.

"We don't know yet whether bananas are a cost-effective energy source," said Dr Clarke. "So my research parameters are designed to discover how long it will take to convert the bananas to methane, and how much methane is produced."

His work involves mashing, pulping and shredding waste bananas to find the most efficient way to make them decompose - as well as adding enzymes to speed things up.

Viable energy

Dr Clarke says he will know by February of next year whether bananas are a viable energy source.

If they are, the banana industry will consider building a banana-fuelled power plant that could bring power to 500 homes.

Electricity generated at the plant would be sold to the national grid, providing banana growers with an additional source of income.

However Dr Clarke admits this technology has a flaw: it takes an awful lot of bananas to generate a small amount of power.

He said: "60kg of bananas are needed to power a household appliance such as a fan heater for 30 hours."

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