Students around the world are in search of new alternatives to fossil fuels. Several biotech students in Surat, Gujarat are studying the water hyacinth as a feedstock to produce ethanol. The students are looking for ways to reduce fuel costs – earlier this month the Central government announced that the price of fuel would increase five rupees across the country. Ethanol is also of interest because it can be used as a fuel for heat and light as well as a transportation fuel.
“Our objective of the project is to produce ethanol, which is a cheaper source of energy. Currently, ethanol is produced from grinds and sugarcane, but they are costing between 12-15 rupees per piece. We want to help cut down the price of fuel in the market, by using waste material, which is called Eichhornia (Water Hyacinth), which grows plenty in the wastewater and fresh water,” said R.K. Krishnamurthy, a biotechnology professor in an article in DailyIndia.com.
Krishnamurthy continued, “In another way it is creating pollution to the water bodies. We want to use those materials which is available at a throw away cost, it is freely available.”
The water hyacinth is considered an invasive pest by researchers; yet, it could be a viable ethanol feedstock because of its abundance in hydrosphere. The research team is collecting samples, then they wash them and dry them overnight at high temperatures. From there the dried water hyacinths are crushed and treated with diluted Sulphuric acid. Eventually, yeast is added and the plant is fermented to ethanol.
The students are racing against the clock. They are trying to produce a product to help mitigate the rising cost of fuel as well as meet the government’s goal of increasing biofuel production and use by 2012.
Shweta Patel, a biotechnology student added, “By 2012, we aim to increase the production of ethanol and reduce pollution by 10 percent in our area. Our target is to create as much as bio-ethanol and help the government.”