Saturday, December 22, 2018
School of Engineering

Thematic Area: Livelihood & Skill Development

Project Guides: Dr. Udaya Baskar Reddy Ragula, Department of Chemical Engineering

International Partners: Mick Richards, Douwe Muller, Rutger Ronald Komen, TU Delft, Netherlands

Amrita Partners: Challa Mahesh Reddy, Nidhin T. Madhu, Prithvi G., Department of Chemical Engineering

Village: Mothakara, Kerala

Project Duration: 3 months

Identified Challenge & Aim:

The village of Mothakara is home to the abundant and naturally available lemongrass plant. There was an age-old tradition of distilling the plant to produce a valuable multi-purpose oil and selling it as a method of generating income. However, villagers could only assist in the distillation process and were never able to own distillation units themselves due to the high cost. The units were owned by wealthier businessmen, which restricted the amount of income villagers could earn. For additional income, villagers took up cutting and selling lemongrass and wood.


Field survey

However, with recent government restrictions on cutting trees, villagers’ options for earning an income began dwindling. With the inability to collect and sell wood, which is burned in the distillation process that produces the lemongrass oil, villagers were forced to find work elsewhere. With the inability to find consistent work, villagers soon entered a sustained state of poverty.

Assessing potential output of lemongrass oil

The Study/Innovation:

Guided by Dr. Ragula, students from TU Delft and Amrita conducted a field survey to identify locally available resources, including sources of renewable energy, with a goal of designing and building a low-cost and sustainable distillation unit for villagers.

After several meetings with villagers and group discussions among themselves, the team proposed to set up a solar thermal-based steam distillation unit to distill oil from the lemongrass plant. After consulting with villagers about the proposed idea, the team designed and deployed a prototype solar-powered steam distillation unit at a mutually agreed upon plot of land in the village.


Dr. Regula with students from TU Delft, Netherlands


Dr. Udaya Bhaskar Reddy Ragula, Dr. Sriram Devanathan, and Mohan, R., “Solar based lemon grass essential oil distillation for sustainability and livelihood in tribal community", in GHTC 2016 - IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference: Technology for the Benefit of Humanity, Conference Proceedings, 2016, pp. 738-744.

Addresses Sustainable Development Goals:

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