Harvesting of pineapples, a widely grown tropical fruit, leaves behind tons of agricultural residues which are usually burned or left to rot, creating undesirable greenhouse gases and other pollutants. But a new process promises to convert the waste into high value aerogels, cheaply and cleanly.
Aerogels are among the lightest solid materials known and are created by combining a polymer with a solvent to form a gel, and then removing the liquid from the gel and replacing it with air. They are extremely porous and have low density but remain firm to the touch.
Duong Hai Minh, a professor at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) department of mechanical engineering, estimates that every year 76.4 million tons of pineapple leaf waste is generated. He believes, this could release harmful chemicals and greenhouse gases that can cause serious environmental problems.
“For each kilogram of the fruit produced, almost three times as much pineapple leaf waste is generated. Farmers saddled with this bulky and fibrous by-product usually burn, compost, or repurpose it as animal feed,” says Duong.