Author — Sumedh Mool
The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are typically considered as mass producers of job-seeking engineers to be exported abroad. However, thankfully that trend is changing with IIT campuses across India becoming the hotbeds for path-breaking innovations with industries sponsoring some of them. Here we showcase some of the best green innovations at IIT campuses that are as diverse as biodiesel production technology to silicon tire fillers extracted from rice husk ash, topped off with by soil biotechnology.
Used-to-Usable: Biodiesel from Used Cooking Oil
Produced from new or used vegetable oil, Biodiesel is a sustainable alternative to diesel. It is also a renewable resource, as it is derived from plant or animal fat. The amount of carbon monoxide, particulate matter and unburned hydrocarbons is high in petroleum diesel and the numbers drop to negligible levels in case of biodiesel.
Evolving friendship into a brainwave, three chemical engineering students of IIT-Delhi, Abhishek Sharma, Harshit Agarwal and Mohit Soni created a prototype of a device for conversion of used cooking oil from different residential and commercial sources (restaurants, hotels) into biodiesel. This device will answer about 25-30% of India’s energy deficit. The prototype is named ‘FAME-1’ began its journey dipped in unprecedented specimens of Jatropha oil, algae oil and even oil seeds. Ideally shaped to the size of a washing machine, it takes about an hour to convert used cooking oil into biodiesel. The process is called tranesterification which allows production of 100kg of biodiesel from 100kg of cooking oil. The technology is inexpensive and operates at 60°C. FAME-1 model with 20kg-cooking oil to 20kg-biodiesel capacity costs INR30,000.
Rice Cranium Innovation: Silicone Tire Fillers from Rice Husk Ash
Rice husk is the covering that protects rice grains. When it is burnt (technically, combustion), rice husk ash is produced. Rice husk forms 23% of the weight of rice grains and is a potential source of silicon in the form of ash (nearly 90%). Widely used for industrial purposes like making transformer plates, cylinder heads and equipment, we can derive silicones from silicon. Silicone oil is used as a lubricant and in some cosmetics. Silicone rubber is waterproof and is placed as a sealant in washrooms and other parts of houses.
In India, about 20 million tons of rice husk ash are generated every year. Dumping such huge amount of rice husk ash damages the health of land and surrounding areas. February 2015 saw three chemical engineering students Abhishek Poddar, Tanmay Pandya and Nikhar Jain, from IIT-Banaras Hindu University (IIT-BHU), emerging with a method to extract the green silica from rice husk ash. The rice husk ash is heated up to 100°C (which does not involve use of high energy source) and the silica is extracted. This extracted silica can be used in tire industries as fillers. As tire filler, the silica reduces the rolling friction and reduces the fuel consumption by 5%. This indirectly lowers the amount of greenhouse gases produced. Since India is a major producer of rice, this innovation can bring down the import of silicon.
Cleaning Water Nature’s Way: Soil Biotechnology
Soil Biotechnology recreates natural processes like photosynthesis, respiration and mineral weathering with aid of micro and macro organisms to purify waste water. Essentially a bio-conversion procedure, Soil Biotechnology is a system that creates oxygen and can cater to water from different domains, like residential, municipal and industrial. The natural process used is decided on the basis of the type of waste. The Soil Biotechnology plant consists of multiple layers starting from beds of grovel and stone to carefully initiated organisms like earthworms. Depending on the geography of the location, the former layer is set up: in Tamil Nadu, laterite rock can be used. The health of plants in the system reflects the status of the process. The water undergoes chlorination and sand filtration to ensure comprehensive purification.
In comparison to the conventional wastewater treatment method, the Soil Biotechnology process does not produce any sludge and there is minimal loss of water with over 90% of the water recovered. There is very less noise pollution and minimal energy consumption. A common byproduct of the SBT process is bio-mineral fertilizer. Dr. Avinash Kadam of IIT-Bombay conceived the Soil Biotechnology system during his 20 years of research on natural ways of wastewater treatment. Already in use by Mumbai Municipal Corporation and Uttarakhand PeyJal Nigam, Dr. Avinash Kadam’s idea has been acknowledged as one of the best eco-friendly innovations by the Ministry of External Affairs, while Siemens has come forward by appraising and awarding this technology.