Garbage in, Brilliance Out

In case you haven’t heard, the world has been trying to Go Green for several decades now. We recycle our trash. We drive cars that get higher and higher gas mileage. We no longer use incandescent light bulbs but LED bulbs instead.

Some of our green advances reduce carbon emissions; others cause new environmental concerns. Still, science and the public are continuously looking for more ways to reduce, reuse and recycle.

One green solution is coming from an unlikely source – our food waste. Recently researchers at the University of Utah began making LEDs from food waste. We’re not necessarily talking about the stuff in your kitchen garbage bags but actual food that is not suitable for human consumption. About 31% of the food we produce in the U.S. every year is not fit for people to eat.

Instead of throwing all that spoiled food into landfills, University of Utah scientists are chemically extracting something called carbon dots from the unusable food and beverage waste.

Why is this significant? One of the most common elements used in LED manufacture until now has been cadmium selenide, a compound made of toxic elements. Once LEDs made from this substance expire, the toxicity remains.

Conversely, LEDs made from carbon dots extracted from food and beverage waste are not toxic because the food and beverages they come from themselves are not toxic.

Another advantage of LEDs made from organic materials is that they do not cost as much to produce or dispose of as cadmium selenide does. Fortunately, LEDs made from carbon dots also tend to be more stable and last longer.

For once the phrase, “garbage in, garbage out” does not apply. In fact, quite the opposite – LEDs created from food and beverage waste turn out to be brilliant, even after they no longer shine.

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