A first of its kind in India, an integrated project to make value added products out of banana stem has started taking shape in Maharashtra with allotment of about 57 acres in Jalgaon district, said officials associated with the project.

The project is to process the banana trunk or pseudo-stem to make fibre yarn, sap water and other products.

“We have been allotted 57.12 acres in Bhusawal in Jalgaon district in Maharashtra and work on the 300 tonnes per annum (tpa) plant has begun to make value added products from banana plantation,” Vinay Gupta, Chief Executive Officer, Gencrest told IANS.

The plant is expected to start production this July with tenders for various works being issued. There are plans to scale it up to 5,000 tpa, he added.

“We will extract banana fibre, liquid nutrients, products for bio-gas, acoustic materials and stem powder. Presently the plan is to use G9 banana variety as it gives 1 per cent fibre,” Gupta said.

One of the partners in the project is the National Research Centre for Banana based in Tiruchirappalli.

“Wild banana variety may give more fibre. We will propose use of wild banana variety for the project. We have 54 wild banana species,” S.Uma, Director, NRCB told IANS.

“The partners for marketing the products have been identified. We have initiated discussions with Government of Karnataka. So things are progressing fast,” M. Annadurai, former space scientist who headed India’s first Moon and Mars space mission told IANS.

Annadurai is now the Vice President, Tamil Nadu State Council for Science and Technology, Chennai and Chairman, National Design and Research Forum, Bangalore.

Queried about the demand, Gupta said it is encouraging as the research and development (R&D) tests carried out in some corporates have been successful.

According to Gupta, another 5,000 tpa banana fibre plant is being planned in Tamil Nadu.

Presently, the banana growers are having disposal problems with the pseudo-stem and incurring heavy expenditure on the disposal without getting any income.

“Banana crops can become like sugarcane in terms of byproducts-fibre yarn for textiles, sap for nutraceuticals and fertiliser, balance waste for acoustic panels and bio-fertiliser,” Annadurai said.

Nothing goes waste in the case of sugarcane as its juice is used for making sugar/jaggery, ethanol, the bagasse is used for making paper or fired in a boiler to generate power.

One of the problems in utilising the full potential of the banana plantation is the absence of an automatic plant to process the trunk.

There are small manually operated machines that extract banana fibre to make products like textiles and other handicrafts.

To solve the problem, the faculty and students of the Kancheepuram based Institute of Information Technology, Design and Manufacturing IIITDM have designed and built an integrated machine that can peel, press and extract banana fibre from the pseudo-stem.

In the process the machine also separates the core stem that can be processed as ingredients for making biscuits, ice cream and others.

“The concept to realisation of the integrated machine took just three months and three days for our team,” Dr. M. Raguraman, Assistant Professor at IIITDM had told IANS.

The trunk peels are pressed to extract the excess water or sap. The water rich in potassium can be used for making nutraceuticals, bio-fertiliser or bio-ethanol. The core stem can be pressed to get the stem juice and the remaining fibre can be dried and powdered to be used in making biscuits and ice cream, he said.

According to him, a manually operated banana fibre extractor can give only 15 kg raw fibre per day but the IIITDM designed machine can give an output of about three ton per day.

After extracting the raw fibre yarn, sap, the balance waste or pith can also be used for making acoustic panels. Lab scale testing of the acoustic panel made with banana pith has been made. The panels can also be used in high end car interiors, Raguraman said.

The Mumbai-based Gencrest has developed a process using enzymes to convert raw banana fibre yarn into textile grade yarn.

Banana fabric is a sustainable green apparel of the future and an alternative solution to synthetic and other resource intensive fabrics like cotton.

India is the largest banana producer producing about 25 million (or 2.5 crore) tonne out of about 8.30 lakh hectares under cultivation.

The major banana producer states are Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

“In Tamil Nadu alone, about 5,00,000 tonne of banana stems are cut and thrown away as waste,” Annadurai said.

According to Raguraman, Tamil Nadu government has allotted five acre land for a pilot project in Tiruchirappalli.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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