UPV chemical engineers turn molasses into alcohol solutions

April 10, 2020
Gail Momblan  (Philippine News Agency) | https://bit.ly/3be48pt

ILOILO CITY – With the current coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) crisis, the University of the Philippines Visayas-School of Technology (UPV-SoTech) took the lead in producing alcohol solutions from molasses, a by-product of the sugar-making process.

Dr. Ramer Bautista, SoTech dean, told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) on Friday the alcohol production is done through a basic fermentation methodology.

He said UPV secured an initial donation of around one ton of molasses from the Universal Robina Corporation Sugar and Renewables from Passi City, Iloilo.

A team composed of Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering faculty and laboratory technicians volunteered to work around with the available resources and equipment to ferment and distill the raw material.

“We are operating at limited resources and we use whatever is available here. For example, instead of sophisticated drums, we made use of the plastic container as one of our intermediate propagation containers and then for fermentation,” he said.

The fermentation process using drum-type batch fermenters take up to four to five days.

After this, the concentration undergoes distillation to ensure that the alcohol solution reaches 60 percent or more to be effectively antiseptic or antimicrobial.

“We are looking at the requirements of the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control. From their regulation, 60 percent will do,” he said.

As of Thursday, the team has produced 77 percent of alcohol solution.

Bautista, however, said they will still be adding components like glycerol and hydrogen peroxide to the solution.

“The final solution should be at least 60 percent after adding all the components,” he said.

He said the team will improve its distillation set-up, and will even come up with another stage of distillation, to ensure the solution reaches the requirement of WHO.

Bautista said the team aims to come up with 30 liters of at least 70 percent ethanol per day when the process comes in full swing.

Since the fermentation in the 200-liter drum takes a few days, he said the team can produce the 30 liters alcohol for three days a week.

“We don’t have specific beneficiaries now but this is intended for Iloilo hospitals and other front-liners,” he said.

Aside from Universal Robina Corporation, the La Filipina Uygongco Corporation, Capiz Sugar Central, Inc. also donated molasses for the alcohol production.

Bautista said lawyer Nellie Regalado of a group of alumni of the UP High School in Iloilo was instrumental in putting together the donations for this project.

The team is also coming up with a simple methodology for other groups and academe to produce the same.

The University of the Philippines-Tacloban, Eastern Visayas State University, Mindoro State Collage for Agriculture and Technology, and the Department of Science and Technology in Western Visayas, among others, have asked for the process as they want to replicate the alcohol production.

"It is a good thing because we cannot provide for all," he said. (PNA)