Mumbai: IIT-B students use wasted food to produce better veggies

Updated: 01 December, 2015 13:52 IST | Shreya Bhandary |

Students have designed a technique that processes wasted food through a biogas plant to create manure, which will not only benefit plants but also yield better produce

The food you waste may just produce better quality of vegetables and fruits. This is what five students of IIT-Bombay are trying to do. They have taken into consideration the amount of produce that goes waste every year due to lack of proper storage facilities, spraying of harmful pesticides and low shelf life of vegetables and fruits.

Arvind Jangid, a student involved in the project, with the biogas plant
Arvind Jangid, a student involved in the project, with the biogas plant

These students have designed a technique, which uses wasted food in a biogas plant to extract methane, and the rest is sowed as manure. Gradually, this methane processes into hydrogen peroxide, which will not only benefit plants but also yield better produce.

“We did a lot of primary research online as well as talked to vendors at the APMC market and local fruit/vegetable vendors in order to find out the main problems that lead to waste of agricultural produce, poultry and dairy products.

We also looked at improving irrigation and increase in shelf life. Once we found out the problems, we slowly started working towards finding a viable solution,” said Aman Verma, a civil engineering student of IIT-B.

He added that much research led them to understand the benefits of hydrogen peroxide on plants as well as humans. The aim was to not only kill the bacteria that ruin agricultural produce, but also help increase the production of fresh produce.

The five students — Arvind Jangid, Nitinpal Singh and Aditya Bansal from the chemical engineering department, Pooja Kulkarni from the Institute Design Centre and Verma — took two months and several trips to farmers, some even in the remote parts of Punjab, to finally come up with a solution.

“Hydrogen peroxide is simply a mixture of water and oxygen, both components enhance plant and human life. Basic experiments showed very positive results,” added Aman. These students slowly started using hydrogen peroxide on small produce like tomatoes at home or gardens and after collating their data, they finally used the same method on the nursery at the IIT-B campus, after approval from an agricultural expert from IIT-B.

“All experiments yielded positive results,” added Aman and stated that as per their research, hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) acted as a natural insecticide, which had no adverse effects on human health whereas use of chemical insecticides in farming is dangerous to health. This also increased the harvest by 11 per cent.

Using H2O2 in animal drinking water improves the immunity of cattle, chickens, pigs etc. Moreover, egg laid by chickens had increased by 5 per cent, milk production increased by 8 per cent and average weight of pigs had also improved.

“Dipping fruits and vegetables in H2O2 solution for three minutes removes the biofilm and increases their shelf life. This reduces food wastage by 80 per cent,” said Aman. While the experiments looked fruitful, one concern was the cost of H2O2, which can be very high especially for farmers across the country.

Therefore, this team of five developed what they call the DRONE methodology — Degradation Reforming Oxidation and Extraction — which used natural resources to create H2O2. “A lot of food is wasted by households as well as restaurants everyday and our method uses this very waste to create H2O2 and therefore brings down the cost of production,” said another teammate.

The students’ method uses a biogas plant to convert food waste into manure and methane. While the manure can be used for agricultural purposes as well, methane is converted into hydrogen through steam reforming. This same gas is then converted into H2O2. “Not only will this be easily approachable for farmers, they will also know how to use it well and give out better quality produce,” added Aman.

Expert speak
“Many concepts have been applied for the past few years to stop wastage of agricultural products and the government itself has approved different types of storage facilities for the same reason. While the concept by these students sounds interesting, they should get an approval from the ministry and maybe then we can look at it too,” said D K Jain, additional chief secretary, agriculture department, Maharashtra government.

First Published: 01 December, 2015 13:40 IST

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