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A regionally grown resolution for interval poverty

Image of rows of succulents with long spiky leaves and large flower stalks.
Enlarge / Sisal is an invasive species that can also be grown agriculturally.

Girls and women throughout a lot of the growing world lack entry to menstrual merchandise. Which means that for no less than every week or so each month, many women don’t go to highschool, in order that they fall behind educationally and sometimes by no means catch up economically. 

Many typical menstrual merchandise have historically been made from hydrogels produced from poisonous petrochemicals, so there was a push to make them out of biomaterials. However this often means cellulose from wooden, which is in excessive demand for different functions and isn’t available in lots of components of the globe. So Alex Odundo discovered a approach to clear up each of those issues: making maxi pads out of sisal, a drought-tolerant agave plant that grows readily in semi-arid climates like his native Kenya.

Placing an invasive species to work

Sisal is an invasive plant in rural Kenya, the place it’s typically planted as livestock fencing and feedstock. It doesn’t require fertilizer, and its leaves may be harvested all 12 months lengthy over a five- to seven-year span. Odundo and his companions in Manu Prakash’s lab at Stanford College developed a course of to generate mushy, absorbent materials from the sisal leaves. It depends on therapy with dilute peroxyformic acid (1 p.c) to extend its porosity, adopted by washing in sodium hydroxide (4 p.c) after which spinning in a tabletop blender to boost porosity and make it softer. 

They examined their fibers with a combination of water combined with glycerol—to make it thicker, like blood—and located that it’s as absorbent because the cotton utilized in commercially obtainable maxi pads. It was additionally as absorbent as wooden pulp and extra absorbent than fibers ready from different biomaterials, together with hemp and flax. Furthermore, their course of is much less energy-intensive than typical processing procedures, that are usually carried out at increased temperatures and pressures. 

In a cradle-to-gate carbon footprint life cycle evaluation, together with sisal cultivation, harvesting, manufacturing, and transportation, sisal cellulose microfiber manufacturing fared roughly the identical as manufacturing of cellulose microfiber from wooden and significantly better than that from cotton by way of each carbon footprint and water consumption, presumably as a result of cotton requires a lot upstream fertilizer. A lot of the footprint comes from transportation, highlighting how helpful it may be to make merchandise like this in the identical communities that want them.

Science for the better good

This isn’t Odundo’s first foray into using sisal; at Olex Techno Enterprises in Kisumu, Kenya, he has been making machines to show sisal leaves into rope for over 10 years. This advantages native farmers since sisal rope and even sisal fibers promote for ten occasions as a lot as sisal leaves. Along with making maxi pads, Odundo additionally constructed a range that burns sawdust, rice husks, and different biodegradable waste merchandise. 

By lowering wooden stoves, he’s lowering deforestation and bettering the well being of the ladies who breathe within the smoke of the cookfires. Adoption of such stoves have been a objective of environmentalists for years, and though quite a few prototypes have been developed by largely male engineers in developed nations, they haven’t been extensively used as a result of they don’t seem to be that sensible or interesting to the largely feminine cooks in growing nations—the individuals who truly have to prepare dinner with them, but weren’t consulted of their design.

Manu Prakash’s lab’s web site proclaims that “we’re devoted towards inventing and distributing ‘frugal science’ instruments to democratize entry to science.” Partnering with Alex Odundo to fabricate menstrual merchandise within the low-income rural communities that almost all want them looks as if the apotheosis of that objective.

Communications Engineering, 2023. DOI:  10.1038/s44172-023-00130-y

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