Science

From this harvest, send farm stubble worries to smoke

Vinson Kurian Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on September 29, 2021

CSIR-NIIST develops award-winning technology

Neither sell your stubble nor move it from the ground unless you need it for thatching, goes the saying. Burning it is not at all an option, unlike in farm lands in North-West India, fraught as it is with the threat of months-long pollution even as yet another Kharif harvest season dawns on the horizon.

So, it was just as well that a team of scientists at the CSIR-National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology (NIIST) should develop technology for converting 'agro residues into biodegradable products as an alternative to single-use plastics.' The team comprised food technologists, chemical engineers, polymer scientists and business development specialists.

Winning NIIST team

It went on to win the CSIR-Rural Technology Award-2020 at the hands of Vice President M Venkiah Naidu at a virtual event in New Delhi coinciding with the 80th Foundation Day of CSIR. Members of the team led by Dr Anjineyulu Kothakota include Venkatesh T, Dr Saju Pillai, Dr Sushant Sahoo, Dr Partha Kuntu, Praveen Raj and M Brahmakumar.

Dr A Ajayaghosh, Director, told BusinessLine that NIIST scientists have shown that plates, cutlery and cups can be produced from agro-waste and byproducts such as wheat bran, rice husk, corn husk, sugarcane bagasse, fruit peel, banana stem and pineapple leaves. These environment-friendly products are affordable, possess a long shelf life and are resistant to fungus and bacteria.

 

Technology transferred

Anjineyulu Kothakota said that the award-winning technology has already been transferred to two Kerala-based companies, Aura Exim, Ernakulam, and Marikar Green Earth, Thiruvananthapuram.

Aura Exim, to whom the technology for converting wheat bran was transferred, has already started commercial production. Marikar Green Earth will process both rice husk and rice bran.

T Venkatesh, scientist, engineer and team member, is tasked with coordinating feasibility studies and scale-up of the processes on a large scale. When asked about the applicability of the technology to stubble burning, he said, "Yes, of course. We have successfully demonstrated tests with a wide range of agro residues which includes rice/wheat straw, wheat husk and brans."

Cellulosic content

Almost all agro residues are rich in cellulosic content, says Kothakota. "We have developed standard operating conditions and process protocols to convert agro wastes into useful biodegradable tableware. We have already received 22 enquiries from different states."

Talks are going on with ITC and another company in Himachal. As of now, non-disclosure agreements have been signed with the two. A DPR has been submitted in Kerala on behalf of the Vazhakkulam Agro and Fruit Processing Company situated in the state's pineapple belt.

Long shelf life

"The process is dry, consumes much less water and energy compared to conventional processes. Products generated are shelf-stable up to six months, heat-resistant up to 100 Degrees Celsius, show good bacterial resistance, and are 100 per cent biodegradable," says Kothakota.

Venkatesh says that the process is designed so that a wide range of agro residues can be processed in the same set of unit operations and equipment, thus making it highly sustainable and economical. Production capacity can range from 50 kg per day of processing, extendable to one tonne.

Published on September 29, 2021

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