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Development of Solar-powered Steam Distillation Unit for the Production of Lemongrass Oil

Start Date: Saturday, Dec 22,2018

Project Incharge: Dr. Udaya Baskar Reddy Ragula
Co-Project Incharge:Mick Richards, Douwe Muller, Rutger Ronald Komen, TU Delft, Netherlands, Challa Mahesh Reddy, Nidhin T. Madhu, Prithvi G., Department of Chemical Engineering
Development of Solar-powered Steam Distillation Unit for the Production of Lemongrass Oil

Thematic Area: Livelihood & Skill Development

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.

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.

Field survey
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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