Pineapple leaf waste has been converted into biodegradable drones by M’sian Prof


The pineapples we get in stores have been stripped down to just fruit, so for many of us, it’s hard to imagine how much waste they generate for farming.

In the small town of Teluk Panglima Garang, Banting, Selangor, farmers deal with a lot of pineapple waste in the process of harvesting.

While this waste could have been composted, Professor Tariq thought, why not recycle it instead?

A man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure

“I started a community engagement program in 2016 called Professor On Duty. Through that, I was bringing my university students to the villages to conduct programs for those in need such as offering free math, English and science lessons for children,” Professor Tariq shared with the Volkan Post.

After 3 years traveling back and forth to Teluk Village Panglima Garang every weekend, a religious leader there called him about a problem their community was facing, which is pineapple waste.

During the harvest season, which is around 12-14 months once the pineapple seeds are planted, all the pineapple leaves will be draining or set aside to decompose on their own.

Leaves many villagers to get rid of / Image Credit: Reuters

However, the leaves were growing so much that they could not be thrown into drains or even left aside to rot, so they began to burn the leaves to get rid of them.

“I do not agree with open burning because it pollutes the air and depletes the ozone layer, and the waste accumulated on the side can turn into a fertile ground for snakes and poisonous insects,” he stressed.

When Professor Tariq returns to discuss with his research team how to fix this situation, they realize that they can turn pineapple leaves into natural fibers and extract something from them.

After doing some digging, they found out how long the process took. It only took 30 minutes to extract the fibers from one sheet, which I thought was very time consuming and not economical at all.

He took matters into his own hands

To make the extraction process more efficient, Professor Tarek developed a prototype machine that drastically reduced the extraction time from 30 minutes per leaf to 30 seconds.

Creating an entirely new prototype machine with increased efficiency is costly, but fortunately Professor Tariq received an initial grant of RM25,000 from the University of Putra Malaysia at the time for this community engagement program, which alleviated costs.

After completing the prototype of the machine, he filed a patent application for the machine and later took it out to farmers.

With his machine able to produce more papers, Professor Tariq thought it would be a good opportunity for farmers to earn additional income from running the machine.

Turning pineapple leaves into natural fibers / Image credit: Reuters

“They were all able to use the machine and turn all the waste leaves into fibers, and that was the first chapter. But now that we have fresh fiber, what are we going to do with all of those fibers?”

“So what I did was create a supply chain and convert these fibers into a composite panel,” he said.

Dictionary time: Composite panel is basically a plate made of composite materials, such as resin and fibers.

Make pineapple leaves fly

When he thought of what to do with these newly manufactured composite panels, the first thing that came to mind were drone frames.

A closer look at his drone / Image credit: Reuters

“Drones are made of plastic or composite materials, and they are very expensive to manufacture. If they are dropped from a certain height, their entire structure will break. Moreover, they are not biodegradable.”

With ready-to-use composite panels made by farmers from pineapple leaves, Professor Tariq designed, cut and installed them together into a drone with the help of Malaysian Drone Activists Association (MUDAS).

Get help from MUDAS to test his drone / Image Credit: Reuters

“I also designed it to be a racing drone, as it could fly 1,000 feet above sea level and be able to stay in the air for 20 minutes.”

Interestingly, Professor Tariq said that his drones cannot be detected by radar because they are made of natural fibers.

“If the radar is still detectable, it is because the batteries are not running with natural fibers. But if it is the chassis alone, it is difficult for the radar to detect it.”

Professor Tariq has also been keen to file a patent application for this design and is looking forward to creating a similar but larger drone that could be used for agricultural or defense purposes.

Drone assembly / Image Credit: Reuters

Another supply chain above drones

Besides drones, Professor Tariq is also working with a furniture company that researches designing synthetic leather furniture, which is typically made of PVC combined with natural fibers.

Although he has already created two supply chains with these natural fibers, Professor Tariq added that they can be used for many other things such as a door panel, car sticker board, or even biodegradable packaging.

The machine that he and his team invented is now kept in the community hall in that village for farmers to continue to earn.

As of now, they face the challenge of obtaining the appropriate funding from the appropriate organizations, which Professor Tariq believes is essential to ensuring the sustainability of this project.

“I think that as professors, we always need to think of ways to be a leader in research. We have written a lot of papers, and everyone knows that. But the most important thing about being a professor is that society should benefit from your presence.”

Professor Mohamed Thariq bin Hameed Sultan

  • You can learn more about Professor Tariq Here.
  • You can read about the other social enterprises we wrote Here.

Featured Image Rights: Pixabay / UPM

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