JOHOR BARU: Sugarcane husk, or bagasse, is not known to be of any use but for four students of SMK Taman Pelangi, they have turned the waste into cutlery.
English Language teacher Arumugam Gopal steered students Aira Nadea Md Ridzwan, Putri Naysilla Najwa Bachron, Muhammad Khalil Kamarun, all aged 16, and Sham Murugan, 15, to do research and find a better use for bagasse.
The bagasse could be converted into cutlery that could replace plastic, styrofoam and wooden cutlery.
It helps that the school has a large sugarcane plantation.
For some time, its sugar cane juice was only useful as thirst quenchers during fundraising or other events in the school.
Calling themselves the “Pelangi Huskers”, the students learnt that the SC-10, or saccharum crust, derived from bagasse could be repurposed as cutlery.
The products can later be returned to nature as fertiliser and compost or used in the production of biogas.
“The world is looking for environmentally safe products. SC-10 can become a new product that is environmentally safe,” said Arumugam.
Explaining the method of producing the cutlery, Aira Nadea said the sugarcane husk would first have to be dried and rinsed twice to get rid it of the sugary content.
After this, she said it would be placed in a pot and boiled. Screw pine leaf (daun pandan) is then used to lend fragrance to the product.
“Sodium chloride (table salt) is added to clear the bacteria and other micro-organisms.”
She said when the boiling process was completed, the water would be strained.
She said at this stage, the bagasse must be dried by sunlight or in an oven.
Aira Nadea pointed out that once the bagasse was fully dried and free from moisture, it must be ground into fibrous powder.
She said the fibrous powder would be sifted to get a smooth and fine product.
The next stage, she said, was to mix the ground powder with natural edible elements to create SC-10, which would then be molded and shaped into various cutlery products.
“Flour paste is then glazed on the inside of the cutlery to reduce the rate of absorption of liquid.”
The next step, which depends on the shape and size of the product, will see the cutlery baked in the oven to remove all moisture and to harden it.
Last, she said they would test the durability and rate of absorption of the bagasse cutlery (the denser the material, the slower the rate of absorption).
To a question why SC-10 ought to be in the market, Arumugam said bagasse could be turned into disposable cutlery.
He emphasised that the raw material was cost-effective since it was readily available.
He added that sugarcane could grow well in the hot and humid climate of Malaysia.
The product, according to Arumugam, is also durable and lightweight.
The cutlery innovation from the bagasse had room for improvement, akin to other innovations like paper straws, plates and cups, he said.
He said the teens were hoping to send a message across the globe on an environmentally safe substitute for plastic, styrofoam and wooden cutlery.
Meanwhile, Pelangi Huskers are forwarding a video-clip of their innovation to the Malaysian International Young Innovators Olympiad competition this month.
School principal Fareeza Ab Rasip is proud of the creativity displayed by the students.
She hoped the students would do well in the upcoming competition and gain recognition for their achievement.
“Pelangi Huskers have made the school proud of their extraordinary achievement, which is an amazing milestone and an inspiration to many of us,” she said.