A team of three students, Bisman Deu, Rayvin Thingnam, and Ekambir Singh, has invented "Green Wood" made out of recycled rice husks and straw that could be used an as alternative building material.
Majority of the world’s population eat rice as a staple food, and the crop dominates cereal production in many developing countries. The threshing of rice produces unwanted husks and straw, and the options for disposal are limited: burning, composting or feeding to animals on the farm. The residues have no commercial value and therefore the farmers end up burning the rice waste – causing air pollution, killing crop-friendly insects and making the topmost layer of soil partially infertile due to loss of nutrients.
As a cost-effective solution to this, the three-member team used rice husks and straw as the raw material, mixed the waste with a resin, and pressed the mixture into particle boards. The new particle boards are fungi- and mould-proof, waterproof, and affordable.
The innovation addresses many challenges such as reducing deforestation and pollution, providing extra source of income for farmers, and providing an environment-friendly, low-cost alternative material for building houses and furniture.
When Bisman Deu saw her family burning mounds of rice waste at their farm in southern India, she was convinced the material could be put to better use.
The Delhi student, 16, came up with the idea of recycling the unwanted rice husks and straw into an alternative building material. “I’d go to my family’s farm, where my dad grew up, for the holidays, and see them burning piles and piles of it. The harvesting months are the worst and the black smoke gets quite harmful, causing people to have problems breathing, as well as polluting the environment,” Deu said.
More than half of the world’s people eat rice as a staple food and, for every five tons of rice harvested, one ton of husk is produced. The cereal residue has little commercial value for farmers, but Deu hopes to change that. “I want to provide cheap and affordable housing material to people, because many live in homes made of mud, which can’t always withstand the weather. This would mean farmers also have a new source of income,” she said.
After asking farmers how they would like to use the recycled product, Deu took to her mother’s kitchen to create a prototype, with support from the Social Innovation Relay initiative. Mixing the waste with a resin and pressing the mixture into particleboards, she came up with what she calls “green wood”.
She says the product is fungi- and mould-proof, making it a viable option for building houses. Deu also plans to use the material to build low-cost school furniture. “I think it could be a local, sustainable solution to some of the problems we see here,” she said.
Deu is still perfecting her prototype but has received interest from Indian businesses. “I’ve made a few designs now and I’m still improving it. Since I’m in a crucial grade of studying, I’m working on both the green wood and school right now, but I’m hoping to have it available to as many people as soon as possible.”
Deu’s innovation was featured in Unicef’s 2015 state of the world’s children report alongside offerings by other young inventors, including four Nigerian students who created a urine-powered generator and a Colombian student who invented a vibrating device to help hearing-impaired people negotiate traffic.
Deu, who plans to study economics at university, said she was inspired after meeting other young innovators. “It was the best experience, and I discovered that there are many young people like me trying to find solutions to our problems. It showed that we, the youth, can think outside of the box.”