Singaporean Google Science Fair student finalists are converting energy from banana peels and sugarcane pulp

According to the Google Science Fair, every great idea starts somewhere, and it just could come from Singapore. 

The tech giant’s global online science competition this year includes two local students from National Junior College, both of whom have been shortlisted as finalists. The competition is open to students between ages 13 to 18, although minimum age requirements vary from country to country. Singaporeans Emma Tan and Jenevieve Ho will be among the 20 teams of students from around the world to present their project at Google’s Mountain View campus in Silicon Valley next month. 

The focus of the NJC duo’s project is to tackle climate change via finding potential sources of renewable energy. But they want to take on the global issue of food wastage too, and the hypothesis for their research is to find out if food waste can be a viable alternative for microbial fuel cells, a potential source of renewable, clean energy. 

But what is a microbial fuel cell in the first place? Basically, it’s a device that converts chemical energy to electrical energy by way of microorganisms — current is generated by allowing bacteria to oxidise and reduce organic molecules. 

As you can imagine, it doesn’t really generate that much power by itself, so the ongoing goal right now is to find a way to make microbial fuel cells sustainable and cheap enough to be used in large-scale real-world operations. What Tan and Ho are looking into is the viability of common food waste like juiced sugarcane pulp (sourced from hawker stalls) and banana peels (acquired from local supermarkets) in microbial fuel cells. 

It’s very technical, but if you’re interested, you can check out their project on the Google Science Fair website. Should the two finalists managed to emerge as winners next month, they’ll receive a total of US$50,000 in scholarship funding for further education.