From emulsified fuel to protein bars, her innovations ride high
Dr Jyotsna Waghmare’s fuel promises to reduce carbon dioxide and particulate matter emissions from vehicles, whereas the protein bars from oil cakes and artificial production of Medium-Chain Triglycerides help boost nutrition levels
By Shailaja Tiwale
| Posted on September 26, 2023
“No one in our family knew anything about science, and Jyotsna had no access to the internet or other sources of information. She did everything on her own,” says Anil Waghmare, the elder brother of Dr Jyotsna Waghmare, while recalling her student days at the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), Mumbai. Their father was a mill worker and an active member of the Ambedkar movement, and their financial condition was precarious.
Dr Waghmare working in the lab alongside students, stressing on the need of collaborative research.
Now an associate professor in the Department of Oils, Oleochemicals and Surfactants Technology at the ICT, Jyotsna (48) has been a spirited innovator. She developed an emulsified fuel in 2017, which significantly reduced carbon dioxide and particulate matter emissions. Five to 10% water is added in diesel to prepare the fuel using a high-energy method.
“We have developed an emulsion with stability of one year and a transparent appearance,” Jyotsna says. Both these qualities were obtained using blends of non-ionic surfactants and co-surfactants. Techniques and instruments such as high static rotor, high-pressure homogeniser and ultrasonicator were used to prepare micro and nanoemulsions. It can be used in any vehicle with a diesel engine.
“We started working on this project in 2015 and got a patent in 2018,” says Jyotsna. Successful trials were conducted on two-wheelers and four-wheelers, and now she plans to approach the industry for large-scale manufacturing of the fuel.
The work on emulsion fuels was carried forward to overcome biodiesel’s drawbacks. Extensive engine design modification was not needed as in the case of biodiesel. At the same time, a considerable reduction in emissions was observed. Though this process requires investments, it will cost nearly 10 % less than diesel.
In 2021, Dr Jyotsna received a grant from the Department of Science and Technology under the Promotion of University Research and Scientific Excellence (PURSE) scheme for artificially producing Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCT). “It is a nutrient that provides immediate energy and is found in mother’s milk and natural products such as coconut and palm oil,” she says.
“We synthesised it to develop products that can also benefit HIV/AIDS patients with compromised digestive systems. MCT is predominantly imported from China, so increasing production in India will minimise reliance on other countries,” she explains. The new product developed is in the process of research publishing and presentation. The next step will be to approach the market. “This artificial MCT will definitely cost 30 % less than the imported products,” she details.
The reuse of oil cakes is yet another sustainable innovation by Jyotsna and her team. The oil cakes discarded after extracting oil are high in nutrients. So, Jyotsna developed a high-protein nutrition bar from it in 2019. “As the population increases, we will need artificial protein to fulfill the requirement. To solve this problem, our team developed a protein-rich bar from oil cakes,” she says.
It can be used as food supplements for the malnourished. She is now conducting research on the required storage conditions, packaging and distribution periods for the protein bar. After completing the research presentation process, it will soon be available in the market. “The nutrition bars available in the market are mainly made from food products such as peanuts and cashews, so they are costlier. However, our product should cost less as it is made from an easily available residue,” Jyotsna says.
Her indefatigable drive for sustainable practices pushed her into seeking new solutions for reducing pollution. There are many temples in Mumbai where tonnes of flowers are offered to the deities in a single day.
Dr Waghmare receiving the ‘Shiksha Rattan Puraskar’ award for her work in higher education.
At the Indiana University- Purdue University Indianapolis as a postdoctoral fellow.
She successfully repurposed these flowers, usually discarded in waterbodies, to extract aromatic oils in 2019. “Sustainable fragrance oil is expensive and in high demand. Mogra (jasmine) oil costs Rs 10 lakh per litre. These discarded flowers can be used to make large volumes of aromatic oils used in cosmetics and perfumes among others. This will also reduce water pollution,” Jyotsna shares.
Jyotsna also developed a method to extract Lutein, a part of the Carotenoid family of antioxidants, from a natural source — used marigold flowers. Currently, Lutein synthesised from chemicals is primarily used in pharma products for eye-related treatment. “We are in the process of filing the patent and commercialising this product,” says Dr Jyotsna.
Converting adversity into triumph
Jyotsna’s entry into ICT was serendipitous. After graduating in 1995, she came across an advertisement for the chemistry courses at Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (VJTI), Matunga. However, she mistakenly went to the ICT premises, adjacent to VJTI. There, she saw a pamphlet about the courses at ICT and applied by getting money from friends. “A few days later, I had been accepted for the BSc course in technology [chemistry], synonymous with today’s BTech,” Jyotsna recounts.
Her assertive attitude bruised the ego of one of her teachers, who chastised her for not showing “proper manners” when dealing with seniors. He then failed her in one of her subjects in the second year. Jyotsna applied for revaluation and received a first-class grade. “I learned that with determination, I could convert adversity into triumph,” Jyotsna shares.
During the placement interviews after the course, Jyotsna discovered that male candidates were preferred for industry-level positions in the chemical sector, mostly due to the “unsafe environment”. So, in 1998, Jyotsna accepted a position in the Research and Development Department at Godrej Foods in Mumbai. In 2000, she returned to her alma mater and enrolled for MTech. “I was shocked to find out that I was the only girl in seven branches of MTech at ICT,” Jyotsna recalls. However, the situation is changing now as ICT has 30% reservations for women.
“Girls tackle challenges in different and better ways than boys. I encourage them to take on leadership roles as it helps in the growth of society. Jyotsna was a bright student. She has good science intuition,” points out Professor Dr DN Bhowmik, former department head and Jyotsna’s mentor.
Dr Jyotsna believes in inspiring the next generation of students to work in STEM research and reaches out to students in various schools in the country.
Dr Waghmare and her team
Jyotsna gradually developed an interest in research. After completing her MTech, she joined ICT as a lecturer and enrolled for a PhD at the same institution in 2003. During her PhD, in 2006, Jyotsna was selected for a visiting scientist scholarship at the University of Arkansas.
After three years of hard work, her PhD was nearing completion. Around the same time, her marriage was fixed. As her future spouse was working in the US, she informed her guide about her plans to move there after completing her PhD. But in 2008, her guide shockingly denied her approval for thesis submission, alleging that Jyotsna had not completed any PhD work. “When I showed her the work I had done in the past three years, she refused to guide me further,” she says.
Though she considered abandoning PhD, her husband encouraged her to lodge a complaint. The institute then appointed a committee, which found that Jyotsna had completed three times the amount of work allotted by her guide, so her PhD completion process could not be stalled.
In 2010, Dr Jyotsna was selected as a postdoctoral fellow at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. However, Jyotsna and her husband decided to return to India. She joined ICT as a professor in 2011 and has continued her research since then. She has published over 80 research papers in journals and three book chapters.
About the author
Shailaja Tiwale is an independent journalist with a decade of experience covering public health, primarily as the Health Correspondent for Loksatta, a leading Marathi daily. She is a recipient of several prestigious fellowships, including UNICEF Media Fellowship for reporting on nutrition, REACH Media Fellowship for reporting chronic respiratory disease and tuberculosis, and Schizophrenia Research Foundation’s ESSENCE Media Fellowship for reporting on mental health. She has completed a National Foundation for India fellowship for reporting on socioeconomic issues in the public health sector and is currently a Laadli Media Fellow reporting on gender.